Hollywood keeps plugging along

HOLLYWOOD — In the old days, you didn’t see Peter O’Toole sipping Aquafina in “Lawrence of Arabia.” And when Charles Foster Kane stared at his wife across the breakfast table, there was no Cheerios box in view.

Well, times change. Product placement is here to stay, and in most cases the products are subtly used. A few recent examples:

  • At their first session in “Antwone Fisher,” Navy shrink Denzel Washington offers Antwone (Derek Luke) some Lay’s potato chips.

  • After release from 14 months in a North Korean prison camp in “Die Another Day,” the first thing James Bond requests is a bottle of Bollinger’s.

  • Leonardo DiCaprio’s mom serves Sara Lee to FBI agents in “Catch Me If You Can.”

While many critics lamented the wall-to-wall plugola in “Minority Report,” that film wasn’t exactly a watershed. Products were noticeable, but brand names weren’t central to the plot, as they have been in other movies. Tom Hanks worked for Federal Express in “Cast Away,” Sean Penn toiled at Starbucks in “I Am Sam” and, more recently, Jack Nicholson in “About Schmidt” retires from the Omaha-based Woodmen of the World Insurance (and doesn’t that look like an appealing place to work?)

Those brand names lend an air of authenticity to the plot; it would have been silly to have Schmidt work for Acme Insurance. There’s nothing troubling about these product mentions. What is troubling is the fact that apparently there’s no such thing as bad plug. So we present the annual salute to the strangest product placements in the year’s films.

Brand-name mayhem

  • In “Signs,” a pharmacist relates her fears about the end of the world to Mel Gibson as they both stand in front of a huge display of Tylenol.

  • In “Spider-Man,” the Green Goblin wreaks havoc from a glider as he circles around huge billboards for Cingular, Cup of Noodles, Prudential, Samsung, Suntory and Marriott.

Brand-name crises

  • In “Unfaithful,” married woman Diane Lane fantasizes about an affair with Olivier Martinez as she washes dishes with Ivory Liquid. Later, wondering whether to end the affair, she buys a box of Cap’n Crunch and bursts into tears.

  • Matt Damon in “The Bourne Identity” realizes his life is in danger via a call on his Panasonic phone.

Slugs and plugs

  • Chuck Barris (Sam Rockwell) in “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” gets punched out in a bar underneath a Miller’s sign.

  • After Adam Sandler withdraws cash from his Sanwa ATM in “Punch-Drunk Love,” he is beaten and robbed in front of a 99 Cent store.

Good enough for criminals, good enough for you

  • In “Austin Powers in Goldmember,” Frau Farbissina visits Dr. Evil in prison and, for no apparent reason, brings food from Taco Bell and a Pepsi.

  • The villains in “Die Another Day” use Omega stopwatches and drive Jaguars.

  • Blind Emily Watson in “Red Dragon” serves serial killer Ralph Fiennes from her Mr. Coffee pot.

Coca-Cola: For the special moments

  • In “Monsoon Wedding,” Vasundhara Das admits to her fiance Parvin Dabas, as they sit under huge Coca-Cola signs, that she’s been having an affair with a married man.

  • Catherine Keener and Emily Mortimer in “Lovely and Amazing” stand in front of a Coca-Cola machine as they discuss their mother’s liposuction.
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