Movie placement’s not always productive

BY THIS POINT, it should come as no surprise that Hollywood embraces product placement in films. It also should come as no surprise that brands have become part of the plot. (Did anyone see “Cast Away” and not notice that Tom Hanks worked for Federal Express?)

So in 2003, few moviegoers were startled to see Bill Murray doing a Santoro commercial (which he doesn’t seem to enjoy) in “Lost in Translation,” or the comely trio in “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” using a Cingular Photo System to identify bad guys, or Lara Croft (“Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life”) tracking the whereabouts of the crucial orb (or whatever that thing was) via her Tissot watch.

More remarkable are the odd product placements. Apparently working on the supposition that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, Madison Avenue and Hollywood dreamed up some strange use of products in 2003. Here, then, is Daily Variety‘s annual salute to the wackiest use of brand names in the year’s films.

DRINKS: FOR THE GOOD TIMES…

In “21 Grams,” fledgling caddy Benicio del Toro gets fired after dropping some golf clubs in front of a Coke machine. The man who fires him offers to buy him a Diet Coke.

In Brit suspenser “28 Days Later,” Jim (Cillian Murphy) thinks the world has ended. So he wanders around a deserted London and drinks Pepsi.

Alone and dejected in a cheap motel, Jennifer Connelly in “House of Sand and Fog” has a Mountain Dew.

MEN OF STEAL

In “The Italian Job,” Seth Green helps plot an elaborate heist via a Dell computer.

In “Bad Santa,” the first thing stolen by professional thief Tony Cox: Manolo Blahnik shoes.

SENIOR MOMENTS

Albert Finney groans when son Billy Crudup asks him to drink Ensure in “Big Fish.” Crudup takes a swig and grimaces.

BLURBS AND BUD

Sean Penn and Tim Robbins have a disastrous confrontation in a sleazy bar beneath a neon Budweiser sign (“Mystic River”).

In “Love Actually,” dorky Colin (Kris Marshall) goes to Milwaukee, where his dreams are fulfilled in a bar filled with Budweiser signs.

As an indication of his nihilistic crisis, Nick Stahl in “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” sits on a bridge, stares into space and drops a Budweiser bottle into the river.

ADS AND ADULTERY

In “Calendar Girls,” Penelope Wilton tracks her unfaithful husband to a Ramada Inn.

Mia (Heike Makatsch) comes on to her married boss (Alan Rickman) in “Love Actually” by sitting at her desk and spreading her legs, right in front of a stack of DHL packages.

BLUBBERING BUT BUFF

In “Something’s Gotta Give,” Diane Keaton makes a tearful farewell to Jack Nicholson and then gets into a cab carrying a Bally’s 800-FITNESS sign.

BREAKFAST CLUB

In “Elf,” Will Ferrell eats a mixture of spaghetti, syrup, candy and Pop Tarts.

AUTO EROTICISM

A cyborg from the future (Kristanna Loken) in “Terminator 3,” says of a silver Lexus, “I like this car.” So she murders the owner and steals it.

In “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life,” the townsfolk of Shanghai run for cover when a black Mercedes pulls into the market area. Clearly, they know that in this movie, the heroes drive a Rubicon jeep but the villains drive a Mercedes.

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