The following is a reprint of our review from SXSW.
“POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” (yeah, that’s actually the full title), Morgan Spurlock‘s new takedown of product placement in television shows and movies, starts out cleverly enough, with a sharp analysis of all the ways in which major corporations, in their limitless, greedy quest for the almighty dollar, wedge advertising into other aspects of entertainment. Hilarious clips from major motion pictures and television series are shown, including a snapshot of “90210,” in which characters earnestly bicker while discussing (and prominently displaying) a can of Dr. Pepper.
But then the movie becomes something else, with Morgan Spurlock pitching a movie to corporations (like Pom juice, JetBlue airlines and Ban deodorant) that very much resembles the movie you’re watching, with the goal to raise the money to pay for the movie. The big joke, of course, is that the product placement is paying for a satirical skewering of product placement. The only problem is the joke isn’t that funny and in the end, the film never addresses any of the thorny issues associated with product placement and it ends up being a half-assed celebration of it, instead of some barbed condemnation.
One of the more attention grabbing segments of the film is a brief montage of Spurlock chatting about the issue of product placement with big shot Hollywood directors like Peter Berg and the dreaded Brett Ratner. At one point he speaks with JJ Abrams and then cuts to a clip of “Star Trek” when a young Kirk visibly uses a Nokia cell phone and, in the funniest moment, a typically lively Quentin Tarantino is chatting about the issue when the camera slowly pans out, revealing a bar of Ban deodorant on the table in between Spurlock and Tarantino.
But moments like these are typical of the movie’s tone and intent. Instead of talking about how product placement is a sort of alternate way to fund big movies to the point that the only way a movie could be made is through the kickbacks associated with product placement or acknowledging that there are certainly ways in which the product placement can be somewhat slyly injected into films (as described in the recently released book “The Art of Immersion” by Frank Rose) the film is just a blanket statement about the evil that corrupts the otherwise pure-as-the-driven-snow world of… commercial films and television… Right.
Instead of thoughtful dissection, though, we get the kind of goofy, isn’t-this-a-lark shit that made Morgan Spurlock a household name via his one-man science experiment “Super Size Me.” There’s a moment, when Spurlock is describing a commercial to the Pom people where he would be shown with a sizeable erection (since the juice is supposed to provide some Viagra-like properties) that caused the audience to giggle uncontrollably, but it’s in this moment that the film seems to lose focus almost entirely.
What is “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” anyway? Because even Spurlock, as he pitches a line of documentary film-themed collector’s cups to a bargain basement gas station chain and goes on talk shows sporting a NASCAR-like suit emblazoned with corporate logos, doesn’t seem to know either. He’s trying to be “open” and “honest” and “transparent” with the audience but the intent seems muddled, confused, half-formed, and doggedly unwilling to engage in some key discussions. Like everything else Spurlock is associated with, it’s all answered with a shrug and a belly laugh. Only this time he’s wearing sponsored footwear. [C-]