Point being: Morgan Spurlock’s newest documentary romp, Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, recycles the exact same joke in movie form. It’s still a good joke. And in today’s overcommercialized world, it’s even more pointed than it was back in the ’80s. But the film may not contribute much to the elucidation of audience members, who are well-aware that their every waking hour is bought and sold by some multinational corporation.
Initially, Spurlock (director of the rabble-rousing, corporate cage-rattling doc Super Size Me) seeks to draw attention to “product placement”—the practice of inserting brand-name products into movies or TV shows without making it look like an all-out commercial. It’s an age-old practice that gained major attention when Reese’s Pieces won out in a bidding war over M&Ms to have their candy gobbled in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 smash E.T. The Extraterrestrial. The rest is movie history. Today, if somebody guzzles a Coke or drives a Ford on screen, you can guarantee somebody somewhere paid beaucoup bucks for the privilege.
Spurlock isn’t merely interested in chronicling the uses and abuses of product placement in the modern entertainment industry. He’s determined to spoof them at their own game by producing a documentary about the subject that is, in fact, filled with actual product placement. Over the course of the film, he hoodwinks 20 companies into helping finance his project. Chief among them, of course, would be the beverage company Pom Wonderful, which ponies up $1 million dollars for above-the-title sponsorship. It is amusing to see the boardroom debates that accompany this decision-making. Some business executives are savvy, some are clueless, some are actively dismissive. Spurlock explains to each sponsor how the product placement will work. All interviews, for example, will be conducted at Sheetz gas stations. The straight-faced negotiations are both funny and eye-opening. They aren’t, however, unexpected.
There’s no doubt that Spurlock is a passionate filmmaker—half documentarian, half performance artist. Unlike fellow champion of the little guy Michael Moore, Spurlock never wears out his welcome. He’s adept at pointing out ridiculous juxtapositions and highlighting ironic moments. And yet, he never comes across as vindictive or superior (two of Moore’s less desirable traits). The jokes fly fast and furious here, and the film is never less than entertaining. There are some zippy graphics and great quotes from the likes of Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader and Donald Trump. What’s lacking, though, is a real point to it all.
By the end, Spurlock has zipped around the globe, talked to a lot of people and sold out in glorious fashion. But he hasn’t really given audiences any information they didn’t know going into the theater—namely, that corporations pay a lot of money to get their name brands in front of consumers. You can see it on every race car, on the marquee of every sports stadium, on the pages of every newspaper and magazine. ... And of course, in a movie theater near you.