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MOVIE REVIEW

POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Spurlock’s documentary proves to be a tough sell

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By Ethan Gilsdorf
Globe Correspondent / April 22, 2011

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Morgan Spurlock, who took on the evils of fast food in his debut documentary “Super Size Me,’’ is back with another jab at consumer culture.

But “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’’ isn’t exactly knocking down the gates of corporate America with its battering ram of truth and justice. The documentary’s subject is marketing and advertising, particularly product placement in TV and movies. Spurlock’s joke is that his movie was financed through product placement. Brands big and small — from JetBlue airlines to Ban antiperspirant to the country of Aruba — bought the right to have their products mentioned, featured, or, in the case of pomegranate juice producer POM, put into the title of the film.

The film these companies have agreed to sponsor is a documentary about Spurlock trying to get the companies to sponsor his film. It begins amusingly enough. We get multiple scenes of Spurlock cold-calling public relations flacks, marching with his portfolio into lobbies of corporate headquarters and offering droll commentary to the camera. Spurlock interrupts his narrative, such as it is, to shill the various products, starring in a series of wink-wink, 30-second spots for Hyatt or Mane ‘n Tail shampoo and conditioner (yes, it’s used by humans and horses). For an appearance on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,’’ he’s dressed in a NASCAR-inspired outfit festooned with corporate logos.

Much like reality TV, nothing much of consequence happens. Spurlock’s quest to line up sponsors ends up being cake. The fact that we’re watching the movie means the “co-promotion’’ goals have been met. From the get go, any tension is drained like so many bottles of POM.

With nothing personally at risk for the filmmaker, you might expect “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’’ to offer the pleasures of an exposé. But Spurlock is no muckraking Michael Moore catching executives off-guard on their way to the parking lot. The marketing teams he pitches his ideas to have agreed to be filmed. Spurlock’s amiable mugging for the camera just makes his investigation more superficial. The only bits that register surprise are a fascinating sidetrip to Sao Paolo — a city that’s banned billboards, out door video screens, and ads on buses and taxis — and a scary visit to a company pioneering “neuromarketing,’’ which uses CT scans to measure brain response to ads.

At one point, like an injection of steroids, Spurlock attempts to jack up the drama by professing a crisis of conscience. Has he sold out? Is he damaging the Morgan Spurlock brand? He seeks the advice of corporate busters Ralph Nader and Noam Chomsky. He communes with lawyers, record label executives, and major Hollywood players such as Quentin Tarantino. But Spurlock’s dilemma is manufactured. The moment he decided to make “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,’’ he checked any artistic integrity at the door and began his tumble from any moral high ground.

While the concept of product placement may be earth-shattering to some, most Americans already grasp the unrestrained, unchecked rise of marketing in nearly every aspect of our lives. “We’re all selling out,’’ says director Brett (“Rush Hour’’) Ratner on camera. Even the writing and publishing of this review plays into Spurlock’s house of mirrors.

At one point, the director mentions his film must get hundreds of thousands of media mentions to fulfill the contractual obligations to his many corporate sponsors. By the film’s end, Nader is fingering a fresh pair of shoes from a major footwear maker. OK, it’s Merrell. Congrats, Spurlock. You’re one step closer to paradise.

Ethan Gilsdorf can be reached at ethan@ethangilsdorf.com.

POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Directed by: Morgan Spurlock

Written by: Spurlock

and Jeremy Chilnick

Starring: Spurlock, Ralph Nader, Brett Ratner

Running time: 88 minutes

At: Coolidge Corner,

Kendall Square

Rated: PG-13

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