Morgan Spurlock is a genuine rarity in the documentary film field: a celebrity. His whole shtick, since his breakout ‘Super Size Me’, has been to put himself in uncomfortable positions and let the audience watch him squirm. He’s less an investigative journalist than a masochist. The fact that he’s not a very good filmmaker seems like almost an afterthought. It’s Morgan Spurlock, for crying out loud! But the hollowness of his craft isn’t as easy to ignore in his new film, ‘The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’, which can’t decide what it wants to be, and ends up being nothing.
The movie starts off promisingly enough, with Spurlock investigating product placement in ads and television shows. It’s gotten to the point where TV shows will have dialogue built around certain sponsorship. In Spurlock’s mind, things have gotten out of hand. To be sure, this stuff is pointed and funny. However, he seems to have an almost determined resistance to investigate the reasons for more upfront product placement and how it can possibly be a positive thing. (I think ‘Blue Valentine’ was sponsored by Chrysler or something.) Instead, per usual, it’s just kind of a goof.
But the bigger goof comes when the movie dramatically shifts focus and tone, and becomes about Morgan Spurlock trying to make a documentary comprised totally of product placement, with little ads built into the actual film. Again, some of this is amusing. There’s a great moment where he’s taking a meeting with the Pom pomegranate juice people, and he’s describing an ad he wants to shoot, built around the concept that Pom juice acts in the same way as Viagra. He explains, with storyboards, how he would be describe the health benefits of the juice, and as the camera pulls back, it would show Morgan sporting a big, throbbing boner.
The problem is that this kind of wacky comedy takes away from any kind of legitimate study of product placement, or a comprehensive take on the subject matter. Instead, it’s given just a cursory glance, and the rest of the movie is Morgan Spurlock begging corporations to give him money. Um, ha?
By the time the movie’s over, the message gets so diluted and co-opted that you wonder if there even is a message. (There’s not.). Spurlock is a documentary filmmaker who’s really skilled at shrugging and winking and saying he’s looking into something when really he’s probably just making fun of it. ‘The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’ is even worse, because you can imagine what a filmmaker with a better handle on both the comedy and real documentary components could have done with the subject matter. As it stands, it just seems like a really long commercial for a better movie that we’ll never get. Talk about false advertising.