Morgan Spurlock is no Michael Moore, but he isn’t trying to be. The “Super Size Me” director is funny, with a humor that doesn’t distract from his message (And both Democrats and Republicans can appreciate his work). But with his new film, “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” Spurlock has traded French fries for another familiar subject: product placement.
Product placement has become increasingly impossible to ignore. When James Bond drives his Aston Martin or the “American Idol” judges drink from Coca-Cola emblazoned cups, you can’t help but do a double take.
Spurlock asks, and the documentary focuses on, the influence these corporations have in the filmmaking process. The answer: More than they should, but only because they’re trying to get their money’s worth — after all, these companies are breaking the bank for their products to be filmed, effectively becoming a central source of funding for TV shows and movies.
In fact, in a sly twist of irony, Spurlock’s own film is no exception: The director convinced 15 companies to cover the reported $1.5 million budget through product placement.
POM Wonderful, a privately owned beverage maker, for instance, paid $1 mil- lion to be included in the documentary’s marquee, making the full, official title of the film “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” JetBlue, for its part, made sure interviews took place either in their airport terminals or on their own planes.
Using product placement to explore the dangers of product placement might seem too meta a ploy, but Spurlock pulls it off. The clever blurring of the lines keeps us invested in Spurlock’s narrative while also teaching us the inner work- ings of the advertising machine.
A particularly affecting moment comes with a trip to a psychoanalysis agency that runs tests in the vein of “A Clockwork Orange,” monitoring brain patterns using MRI machines. The results of Morgan’s tests show dopamine releases after watching a Coca-Cola commercial. “That’s addiction right there,” the technician explained.
But even with such showmanship, Spurlock’s latest exposé never reaches greatness. It rehashes the same points over and over, and by the end of its 90 minutes, nothing new has been concluded. While the pace is nice and breezy, with everything happening in front of the cameras in a clear and transparent nature, the result leaves little room for nuance. Money matters, the director asserts — yet we all knew that already.
Still: It’s a fun and enjoyable ride through the world of advertising, co- branding and product placement. It won’t be winning any awards, but the cyclical meta-ness of the film makes it endearing. And to Morgan’s credit, the heavy-handed product placement of the film definitely works. We can’t get POM out of our minds. (B-)