The Greatest Movie Ever Sold: movie review

( PG-13 ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )

'Super Size Me' director Morgan Spurlock spins a metadocumentary on branding and film in 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.'

David Crotty/ Press/Newscom
Morgan Spurlock appears at the premiere of "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."

Morgan Spur­lock is a jokester documentarian who fancies himself a social reformer. I'd call him Michael Moore Lite except Moore himself can be pretty Lite.

His most famous film is "Super Size Me," where he ate nothing but McDonald's fast food for a month while chronicling on camera his widening girth and skyrocketing cholesterol. Spurlock's most recent film, "Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?" was a facetious attempt to track down the titular bad guy.

For his new film, Spur­lock had a potentially kicky idea: Since movies are already replete with product placements, why not make a movie about how the branding process works and finance it entirely with – voilà – product placements? The result is "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."

As you no doubt have already surmised, POM Won­derful, the makers of those chubby, pricey bottles of pomegranate juice, kicked in a million dollars and became the film's over-the-title presenter. The movie's overall budget, around $1.5 million, was filled in by product plugs for everything from Ban deodorant, JetBlue and Hyatt Hotels to Mini Cooper and horse shampoo.

The result, to put a char­itable spin on it, is a metadocumentary – a movie about itself that is also an inherent critique of itself (wink, wink). But Spurlock is no metaphysician. Any highfalutin interpretations of his new film only serve to camouflage what is, in essence, a scam about a scam.

Spurlock wants us to know that, because he is in on the scam, he is not selling out – or "buying in," as he prefers to call it. He confides in us and brings us into corporate powwows where he attempts to hawk his movie to advertisers. He keeps things "transparent." (Of course, any good magician will tell you that "transparency" is a prerequisite for any successful sleight of hand.)

We are informed that, despite its corporate sponsorship, Spurlock retained editorial control over his film, but this revelation has to be taken with a very large boulder of salt. If Spurlock is such an independent social crusader, why did he not see fit to mention in an end-credit addendum that, after his film was shot (but before it was released), the Federal Trade Commission, independent of the movie, filed a lawsuit against POM Wonderful for making unsubstantiated advertising claims for its product?

Spurlock, at least, is an affable host. He is, after all, plugging himself, his "brand." At the same time, he manages to rein in an impressive array of eggheads, including no less than Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader. Spurlock even gets the seemingly incorruptible Nader – who believes that the only way to avoid advertising in our culture is to go to sleep – to accept a freebie pair of Merrell shoes, another of the film's sponsors.

He also travels to São Paulo, Brazil, where outdoor advertising has mercifully been banned. (The blandness of the landscape looks eerie, which may not have been Spurlock's intention.)

Like the interviews with pointy-headed potentates, this section represents the film's ostensible socially redeeming section. Spurlock also offers up interviews with such paragons of artistry as Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour," "Shanghai Nights"), who pooh-poohs the concept of artistic integrity.

Spurlock's headline-grabbing high concepts are as uniformly dubious as they are, at least on paper, entertaining. In "Super Size Me," for example, the sicknesses brought on by his month-long McDonald's-only diet could in all likelihood have been duplicated by a 24/7 menu of high-end saucy French cuisine and pastries.

Despite its aura of exposé, "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" – excuse me, "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" – isn't telling us anything we don't already know. The nonstop onslaught of product placements in our lives is, alas, a given. The only novelty here is that Spurlock has hauled the corporate marketeers into an indie movie arena supposedly too pure for such temptations.

But does this mean the movie will inspire a rash of advertisers, checkbooks in hand, to infiltrate the indies? Don't count on it. It's a good bet that the only beneficiary of Morgan Spurlock's new movie will be, you guessed it, Morgan Spurlock. Grade: C (Rated PG-13 for some language and sexual material.)

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