We’ve all seen those collector’s cups and kid-meal toys at fast-food restaurants emblazoned with images from blockbuster movies such as Iron Man or Harry Potter. But how come those marketing tie-ins are never promoting a documentary? In POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock ( Super Size Me) tries to find out if it is possible to land promotional partners for a nonfiction film. The title alone lets you know he succeeded. The pomegranate juice POM Wonderful isn’t only mentioned in the title: The movie also features two actual (and funny) commercials for the product, and Spurlock often appears drinking the product (when he reaches into a convenience store freezer to grab a bottle, the film even blurs the logos of all the other drinks sitting on the shelf).Spurlock wants to draw attention to the common practice of product placement in movies and television, in which characters pointedly use or consume a brand-name product (cars, food, drinks, clothing). Spurlock also find clips from 90210 and Chuck in which the ads are even incorporated into spoken dialogue. This is nothing new for films, but Spurlock’s exploration of the practice — in conjunction with his attempts to find sponsors willing to fund the film’s $1.5 million budget in exchange for blatant on-screen promotion — is illuminating, to a point. The movie is at its best when Spurlock dives deep into his subject, interviewing directors such as J.J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino, who reveals that Denny’s refused to be featured in the opening scenes of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, or talking to film-industry executives about how much creative control sponsors have over a production they are helping to finance (the answer: not a lot yet, but their influence is growing). Spurlock travels to Sao Paulo, where the mayor passed a “clean city” law banning all outdoor advertisements, and the bustling urban streetscapes completely devoid of any billboards or banners look like something out of a futuristic sci-fi movie. The filmmaker also meets with Broward County public-school officials, who complain about their dwindling finances and show him the creative methods schools are employing to raise a little money via cheap ad space on buses and phys.-ed. fields. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is less compelling when it focuses on Spurlock’s attempts to raise money for his production: Unlike Super Size Me, in which Spurlock’s presence was key to exploring the effects a fast-food diet have on the body, the constant scenes of the filmmaker’s pitching potential sponsors and presenting them with ideas as to how he can hawk their products wear out their welcome. Spurlock is no Michael Moore — he’s not a particularly funny or entertaining host — and although audiences will be interested to see just which promotional partners he’s able to land, the movie leaves you wishing there had been more journalistic exploration of the subject and less self-promotion. Spurlock ends up coming across as a commercial for himself, which is perhaps appropriate for a documentary about sly advertising.
Director: Morgan Spurlock.
Screenwriters: Jeremy Chilnick, Morgan Spurlock.
Producers: Jeremy Chilnick, Abbie Hurewitz, Morgan Spurlock.
A Sony Pictures Classics release. Running time: 90 minutes. Mild vulgar language. Plays at 6:15 p.m. Monday at Regal South Beach and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Cosford Cinema. Spurlock will attend a festival seminar, “A Conversation with Morgan Spurlock,” at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the W Hotel.