Contains Spoilers for Perfect Stranger
A few years back, I used to work for a large Champagne house. Every now and again, we’d get requests from film production companies asking us if we’d like our product to feature in their film – all for an exorbitant fee of course, which they would use to offset the cost of production. I’m all for imaginative movie financing such as this, not that it really got anyone anywhere. At the time, Champagne sales were riding high – the French couldn’t produce enough of the stuff (it is a finite product, after all), so why would anyone want to advertise to sell more? The stuff essentially sold itself.
This is something you almost certainly couldn’t say about Perfect Stranger, which plays as if someone has dropped eighty half-written thriller plot points into a huge food processor and simply hit the ‘splurge’ button, not caring what was poured out or what it looked like. The one notable thing about it is the amount of product placement on show. And as this is a film set partially in the world of advertising, that means there’s an absolute rampage of brands queuing up to get their fifteen seconds of A-list Hollywood exposure. Reebok, Match.com, Victoria’s Secret, Heineken, Sony – plus a few others I probably missed.
It’s bad enough when any film starts down this route, but when it’s in your face as much as it is here, it actually starts to disrupt the very narrative that it helped pay for. For instance, Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis), hot shot advertising honcho and prime suspect in the murder of Halle Berry’s arch-nemesis in a plot too convoluted to give a flying arse about, introduces a Victoria’s Secret show (replete with Heidi Klum co-hosting). All this sequence said to me was that there was no way a brand like Victoria’s Secret was going to let their fictitious fashion show be introduced by a cold blooded murderer, imagined or not. Ka-thunk went a major plank of the narrative, and with it my interest.
Watching Perfect Stranger, I’m sure there’s a correlation to be drawn between quite how bad a film is and the amount of product placement shoehorned into it – Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, anyone? That said, my favourite ever product placement moment – if you can call it that – occurs in Blue Velvet. Our hero’s (Jeffrey Beaumont) favourite tipple is Heineken. At one point in the film, the unpredictable and deranged psychopath Frank Booth asks, ‘What kind of beer do you like to drink, neighbour?’ ‘Heineken,’ Jeffrey replies, uncertain as to whether this is the right answer. ‘Heineken?’ roars Frank, ‘Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!’