'Pom Wonderful' tackles product placement

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 30, 2011 - 5:47 PM

Morgan Spurlock's documentary examines stealth advertising.

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Morgan Spurlock

Photo: Daniel Marracino, Sony Pictures Classics

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A movie about the evils of product placement financed entirely through product placement? "Pom Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold" sounds like an ingenious ploy, using the sponsors' own rope to hang them. Alas, the film never gets its lasso knotted.

Morgan Spurlock's documentary examines stealth advertising, brand cameos and fast food/movie tie-ins. He slithers right into the belly of the marketing beast, bringing his camera crew to meetings where he offers to hawk consumer products.

The mini-ads are designed to look forced and fake; he guarantees the Ban team a shot of his medicine cabinet stocked with nothing but sticks of their deodorant. They buy in for $50,000. The film comes to resemble a "Celebrity Apprentice" marathon, with Spurlock pitching his idea to hotel chains and makers of running shoes in pursuit of the $1.5 million he'll need to wrap the production.

There are eye-opening vignettes here. A trip to São Paulo, Brazil, where outdoor ads are banned, is a striking reminder of how desensitized we have become to visual clutter. Spurlock's purchase of billboard space on a cash-strapped Florida high school's athletic field is telling, though better suited to a report on the plight of public education. A look at "neuromarketing" shows how commercials are tailored to agitate the regions of the brain that react to fear, craving and sexual desire. But for every intriguing episode there are four anecdotes about Spurlock's misadventures as a pitchman.

Reluctant to disparage his sponsors, Spurlock mostly satirizes himself. The film's tension comes from whether the amiable filmmaker will dance too close to the edge, becoming the very sort of infomercial pitchman he's satirizing. The movie will mean the most to people who think Morgan Spurlock's indie cred is a big deal.

  • POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD
    ★★ 1/2 out of four stars
    Rated: PG-13 for language and some sexual material
    Where: Uptown
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