A film review by Craig J. Koban June 28, 2011

THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD j
½ 

2011, PG-13, 90 mins.

 

A documentary directed by Morgan Spurlock

Here we go again. 

Now, before I begin digging into Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, officially titled POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD, I need to state a few things:  I don’t hate Spurlock, contrary to what you may have inferred from my reviews of his previous documentaries.  I actually think that he’s got an everyman charm, a spirited, happy-go-lucky temperament, and generally has a likeable on-screen presence as a jokester.  He’s a hard man to hate. 

Yet, for as magnanimous as he appears to be on screen, his documentaries have been wholehearted failures.  Thought-provoking and stimulating documentaries should present a subject that you think you are familiar with and make you fundamentally reevaluate them.  They should enlighten audience members, not pummeling them with information they already have processed.  That’s precisely what Spurlock has done with his incredulously Oscar nominated SUPER SIZE ME and WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN?, which is what creates a distance between me and their material: Instead of being a daring and intrepid crusader that digs deeply into the heart of his themes, Spurlock is more akin to being a playful exhibitionist engaging in self-promoting stunts. 

SUPER SIZE ME, you may recall, was more of a self-indulgent and gimmicky stunt than a documentary.  Instead of seriously probing the real underling issues of obesity in North America, Spurlock ate McDonalds food for 30 straight days to prove – holy mackerel! – that eating shitty food makes you unhealthy.   Then came another exhibitionist stunt – albeit more of a globetrotting one – where he went on a travelogue odyssey through the streets of Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to find, yup, Bin laden.  Guess what?  He didn’t.  Stop the presses! 

All of this long prologue serves a purpose, though: Spurlock is up to his same old tricks with THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD, which is meant to be, I think, a stunning and revelatory expose on movie product placement and the tenuous and stressful relationship between advertisers and the movies.  Much like his last two films, THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD provides very little in terms of actual, contemplative insights into its themes.  If you already did not know that advertisers ravenously go out of their way to shamelessly plug their respective products in films like, for example, IRON MAN to make a buck, then get out from under the rock you currently reside under.  I did, however, learn a few things from the documentary: Director Brett Ratner would probably sell his soul to put a can of Coke in any of his movies and that the only reason that Quintin Tarantino did not have Denny’s in RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION as scripted was because the franchise refused him. 

I will say this: Spurlock at least has a kernel of an intriguing idea.  Instead of just being another talking heads-styled doc with interviewees, stock footage, and commentary, he has a fiendish idea – he will make a documentary about advertising in the movies that is funded completely by advertising dollars.  In essence, the film becomes less about the nature and reality of product placement in film and more about Spurlock’s determined attempts to seek out sponsorship to accumulate the required $1.5 million he needs to get his film made.  What he learns – that should be of absolutely no shock whatsoever to anyone, including himself – is that corporate sponsors – to quote director Peter Berg in the film – “don’t give a fuck about art” and instead will go to any lengths to place their "brand" into films.  

And the “Captain Obvious” Lifetime Achievement Award goes to…. 

The essential arc of the film is Spurlock pleading with as many companies as possible to get funding for his film.  He essentially, even though he does not freely admit it, is selling out his film.  His odyssey includes detours with Hyatt, Mini Cooper, OK Go, Old Navy, Jet Blue, POM Wonderful, and, most hilariously, a company that offers a shampoo that includes on its label instructions for human and animal usage.  Most of the higher ups he visits are, of course, highly dubious of Spurlock’s aims (some of them rightfully ask whether he wants to positively use their products or frame them in a negative and scathing light…legitimate concerns).  He also speaks with agents, lawyers, product reps, directors, musicians, and product placement specialists (the most eerie is one that utilizes neuroscience to see how the brain responds to movie trailers).  He finally hits pay dirt with POM, who agrees to be a major sponsor, but only under the provision that Spurlock is only seen drinking POM juice though the whole film.   

The more I sat through THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD the more it became glaringly apparent that Spurlock is primarily interested in self-promotion more than anything else by engaging in yet another guerrilla documentary stunt.  Yes, he is funny at times and an engaging presence, but he overwhelms any sense of invigorating dissection of the key issues here.  THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD is only interested in entertaining, and to that it achieves its aims, but as a result it showcases Spurlock settling for so little in actually examining the incestuous relationship between the movies and advertisers.     

There are other nagging conundrums that, quite frankly, made my head incessantly spin all throughout the film: What does Spurlock’s stunt (to call it anything else would be misleading) say about him and the art of making movies?  Is he a sell out?  Is he just "buying in" the way countless other directors have for decades?  Is Spurlock tarnishing the very essence of documentary filmmaking by, for lack of a better phrase, whoring himself out to advertising money?  Is getting advertising money a win-win for the corporations and the film studios?  There rarely appears to be a moment when even Spurlock can answers any of these questions.  He barely even scratches the surface of such queries. 

The film does contain both amusing and modestly interesting material.  A couple of hilarious gems show him interviewing Noam Chomsky while going out of his way to gulp down on a POM-made refreshment.  There are also a couple of shots where POM beverages are shown during which all other bottled and canned beverages in a convenience store fridge are digitally blurred out.  There is a sidesplitting commercial within the film for Mane ‘n Tail (the aforementioned shampoo for humans and, ahem, horses) and a sly moment between Spurlock and consumer advocate Ralph Nader during which, at its conclusion, Spurlock offers him a free pair of Merrell shoes. 

In the end, though, THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD is precisely cut from the same cloth as SUPER SIZE ME and WHERE IN THE WORLD IN OSAMA BIN LADEN?: they are all much ado about nothing documentaries.  I came out feeling, more than ever, that Spurlock is essentially a performance artist first and a shrewd, opinionated, crusading, and sincere documentary filmmaker a distant second.  The film proves that Spurlock is essentially biting the hand that feeds him by paradoxically attacking forces that are making his doc a reality.  I guess I am getting tired of Spurlock taking 90-plus minutes to emphasize the obvious to viewers?  What’s next: him engaging in a two-week crystal meth bender to prove that drugs are bad?   Could very well be.

REVIEW ADDENDUM

Did you know that POM is the only brand that can guarantee 100% authentic pomegranate juice because they are the only brand to grow, juice and bottle our own fruit. There are no middlemen.  So why not help yourself to one...today!

Crap...did I just sell out?

  H O M E