Ever since his attention-grabbing debut, Super Size Me, documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock has exhibited a canny knack for self-promotion. He takes that inclination to new heights with his latest effort — The Greatest Movie Sold, a purported behind-the-scenes look at cinematic product placement itself fully financed through the product placement of various brands, all of which are transparently showcased within the film. The stated logic is that since Iron Man had 14 brand partners and grossed $585 million worldwide, throwing sponsors into a documentary will surely increase its slice of the multi-billion advertising pie, and thus its commercial gross/popularity. So, wink-wink, nudge-nudge fun, right?
Well, only sort of. Spurlock’s film is fitfully engaging in its own facile way, but also restless and unfocused — and thus it never really digs into its subject matter in a deep or interesting enough way. It isn’t that Spurlock sells out (or “buys in,” as it’s also called in the movie, in a rah-rah presentation of gotta-get-mine American capitalism), it’s just that he gets so caught up in the dizziness of chasing down partnership deals with Ban deodorant, Sheetz convenient stores, Hyatt, JetBlue, title sponsor Pom Wonderful and others (even a hybrid horse/human shampoo!) that he miscalculates audience interest in this glimpse behind the advertising curtain.
While these meetings, in their own nuts-and-bolts manner, may be representative of the horse-trading involved in trying to juggle art and commerce, they meander as much as illuminate, and generally undercut revelatory and/or thoughtful talking head interviews with more interesting figures, including Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky and Hollywood feature directors like Brett Ratner and Peter Berg. Only late in his film does Spurlock delve into interesting ethical, social and anthropological questions, with a study of the newfangled science of neuro-marketing and the exploration of a citywide ban on all billboards and outdoor promotions in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. By that point, however, the movie’s tapdance sales job has worn out its welcome. (Sony Pictures Classics, unrated, 87 minutes)