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04/29/2011

When the pitchman becomes the pitch, man

Before it runs low on exposé fire-in-the-gut power, which it does at about the three-quarter pole, Morgan Spurlock's latest crusading documentary comes across as a capital(istic) idea.

If the title, "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" appears a little unusual, that's because Spurlock sold the title rights to the makers of pomegranate drinks for a million smackers.

That's right, Spurlock's effort to expose the evils of product placement in movies and other areas of our lives prostitutes itself, commercially speaking, in what the filmmaker must hope will be for the good of mankind and the profit of one Mr. Morgan Spurlock.

Whether he's stuffing McDonald's french fries into his body to the point of projectile nausea in the previous documentary "Super Size Me" (2004) or traipsing around the Middle East in search of Osama Bin Laden (2008), Spurlock appears to love the thrill of the chase.

Spurlock likes to kid around and insert humor as he overturns soiled rocks to reveal ills of the world. He has that in common with Michael Moore, his Oscar-winning ("Bowling for Columbine") peer.

The difference between the two remains Spurlock's limitations in gutting his foe and hanging his catch on a hook for a gripping trophy shot. Moore remains the master in filling a movie screen with the painful and sometimes comic ironies of life, whether it be corporate greed or a woman selling rabbits for "pets or meat."

Spurlock, try as he will, has never mined that kind of documentary gold.

In "Greatest Movie Ever Sold," the likable crusader of justice for all makes cold calls to gather clients willing to opt in with big bucks to finance the movie and shine a spotlight on, well, opting in. He even wears his labels on a NASCAR-like suit peppered with corporate logos, and he wears it proudly.

Spurlock eventually fills his coffer. Yet the filmmaker's money shot (rubba-dub-dub, a filmmaker, a kid and a Shetland pony in a tub) comes from a company that opted out.

And we come to the ultimate question: Should this movie be a hit or not?

If Spurlock and the film company make money off of an exposé about the evils of product placement in movies, isn't that a little like putting the cart before the soapy Shetland pony?

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