POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (PG-13)
Kimball's Peak Three
In 2004, Morgan Spurlock won audiences with a documentary that turned the camera on himself to prove a point — that fast food is not only ubiquitous but gleefully, toxically so — with self-examination, pluck and an everyman curiosity. He made it seem like anybody could blow out their tiniest nagging anxieties to "docbuster" proportions, as long as they were charismatic, open to scrutiny and willing to chisel away at corporate barriers.
Super Size Me took us back to the days of Michael Moore's Roger & Me and the then-novel concept that making a documentary could be as simple as, "I have a question and I'm not that smart, so I'm going to learn as I go and take you along."
Many diminishing returns later, Spurlock has made a non-documentary that's hardly a film. POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold sets up its premise right off the bat: Spurlock will fund a documentary about branding, marketing and product placement in the entertainment world, and it will be financed by corporate sponsors! He'll sell naming rights! Whatever companies give him money, he'll wear their shoes, or pump their gas, or stay in their rooms or drink their beverages! Wait, wait: There could be ads within the movie for those products, and signage behind the people he interviews!
One problem: Spurlock's basically making a freshman-level observation. "Hey, marketing is all around us, man! Like, everywhere you look there are logos and somebody trying to sell us something. Weird." Fascinating, Morgan, tell us more.
He promptly meets with high-level product placement experts and branding managers, some of whom take him on as a project and play dumb. "You could be a brand yourself!" marvels one ad exec. Of course he could: He's a brand already. Hence 19 producing credits and appearances everywhere from Top Chef to The Simpsons.
Spurlock gleefully sells his idiotic idea throughout the movie, and the rare instances when he feels compelled to talk about his original point, he interviews either people on the street who know little about the inner workings of Hollywood's marketing machine or the usual social-commentary suspects like Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader.
The few times he actually speaks to Hollywood directors, he does no digging. He chats up Friday Night Lights' Peter Berg, who tells him that corporations don't care about art, but that they also don't meddle too much. Most unforgivably, he nails down Brett Ratner, the source of all things unholy who, besides directing films like Rush Hour, works on the side as an actual product placement adviser for a $1 million annual retainer! Spurlock doesn't bring this up, but does let Ratner off the hook when he literally says, "Artistic integrity? Pshaw."
POM is perhaps the most pointless, indulgent, incurious documentary ever made. Don't get me wrong: I have no moral objections to corporations funding documentaries. But this one disturbingly sweeps under the rug a potentially game-changing proviso in POM Wonderful's sponsorship contract: final approval of the entire film. (Spurlock claims via title card at the end that he had control in the end, but there's a million reasons to doubt that.)
If, someday, we're given POM Wonderful Presents: Crimes Against Humanity — The Congolese Genocide Story, I would say that's money well spent. But we don't need a giggling Morgan Spurlock wasting 90 minutes and couching it as a "documentary" simply because he threw in a few facts and figures.