For years, the entertainment industry has harbored a dirty little secret: Sometimes reviewers are sent friendly reminders of upcoming titles in the form of free gifts. What's the difference between these items and bribes? Not much. Of course, the highly ethical, unswayable critics of The A.V. Club find these cheap stabs at manipulation absolutely… adorable! (There's something inherently amusing about a bribe consisting of awful, inedible food or a dysfunctional wind-up toy.) Here are some of the more interesting items we've received recently, and what we thought of them.
Item: An eight-ounce bottle of "hand & body lotion," with a label that says in block letters, "It rubs the lotion on its skin"
Promoting: A new DVD release of The Silence Of The Lambs
Relevance to product promoted: Reasonably high. Lotion doesn't play much of a part in the film's serial-killers-vs.-FBI plot, but the line quoted on the label is one of the film's most memorable, and most-repeated.
Item quality on a scale of 1 (instantly trashable) to 5 (cool even if it weren't free): 4. The lotion itself is a little greasy, but it has a pleasantly citrus-y smell, and the cute little attached tag, which evokes the other half of the famous line—"It reviews the Silence Of The Lambs Collector's Edition DVD or it gets the hose"—is pretty hilarious, and gives the bottle a high office pass-around amusement value. The jury is still out on whether regular use of the lotion will make the user's skin more pliant and useful to serial killers making woman-suits.
Item: Plastic gloves, scrubbing cleanser, and a wash pail
Promoting: The Mommy Dearest "Hollywood Royalty Edition" DVD
Relevance to product promoted: Reasonable. This cleaning kit riffs hilariously on Joan Crawford's obsessive-compulsive need to keep her house immaculate. 'Cause what's funnier than mental illness and child abuse? It should be noted, however, that the Mommie Dearest promotional cleaning kit contains no wire hangers. Ever.
Item quality: 4. The Mommie Dearest cleanser is Ajax Bleach Cleanser with a new label slapped on. The dodgy-looking fake-fur-lined rubber gloves are almost glamorous. Finally, you can clean your house in the gayest manner possible.
Item: A severed, bloody fake ear in a Styrofoam box
Promoting: The theatrical release of 2006's The Hills Have Eyes remake
Relevance to product promoted: Reasonably appropriate. It's gory, graphic, unpleasant, and tawdry, just like the film. It also amounts to fair warning: Anyone who can't handle the bloody plastic version of a severed body part is probably too weak-stomached for the cinematic version.
Item quality: 1. In fact, it was so instantly trashable that we trashed it before taking pictures of it. Alas. (Also, it made us feel guilty looking at the thing, and imagining some poor intern tasked with squirting fake blood over hundreds of rubber ears and shipping them to unsuspecting people.)
Item: A helmet
Promoting: FX's Iraqi war drama Over There
Relevance to product promoted: Perhaps too high. Like the protective armor given to our troops in Iraq, this laughably cheap helmet is woefully inadequate to the task at hand. Unlike our troops' protective armor, however, the Over There helmet at least owns up to its inadequacies with a sticker that reads "Warning! This Is A Toy. Does Not Provide Protection. Caution: Helmet Are Not Safety Protective Devices." [sic.]
Item quality: 2. This flimsy piece of plastic couldn't protect the wearer from squishy foam Nerf weapons, let alone shrapnel or cluster bombs.
Item: A Sony Discman, cardboard pyramid, and soundtrack CD
Promoting: The Da Vinci Code DVD release
Relevance to product promoted: Alternately high and bewildering. The pyramid-like case containing the film's press kit and score certainly recalls the film's climax, but the Discman is nearly as cluelessly anachronistic as Tom Hanks' modified mullet.
Item quality: 3. The Da Vinci Code pyramid seems solid enough, and while the Discman has yet to break, its promotional Da Vinci Code sticker has faded beyond recognition. Damn you, Sony! Damn you and the cheap stickers you affix to your absurdly over-the-top promotional items! Just for that, we're going to retroactively give The Da Vinci Code a negative review. Oh wait, we already did. Never mind.
Item: Unclosable CD packaging for Of Montreal's 2007 album, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? Four overlapping petals bearing deliciously psychedelic, kaleidoscope-like patterns fold in over the CD. A little circle of adhesive is supposed to hold it all together, but it wears out pretty quick. Instead of liner notes, a matching paper disc inside includes the album credits, which don't take up much space, because mastermind Kevin Barnes played nearly everything on the album.
Promoting: The album
Relevance to product promoted: Well, it does contain the product, however precariously.
Item quality: 4. The CD's vulnerability may lead to heartbreak for disorganized indie nerds everywhere, but once the songs are safe inside your computer, there's no reason not to enjoy the package's acid-scorched novelty.
Item: A black-and-red Essential Dating Kit with "foreplay dice," red and orange condoms, antibacterial moist wipes, gel lubricant, and a "Just Do Me" breath mint
Promoting: Date Movie
Relevance to product promoted: High. Date Movie apparently involves dating of some sort, and the "Essential Dating Kit" provides all the essentials for the low-rent lothario in everyone. Just like the movie it's promoting, the "Essential Dating Kit" is cheap, sleazy, mildly ribald, and painfully unfunny. All that's missing are excessive clumsy references to pop-culture phenomena from the past 20 years.
Item quality: 1. The cheaply packaged foreplay dice are particularly creepy, with their seemingly homemade packaging and cryptic tagline, "Passion And Sexy Action With Each Roll." Use these items at your own peril, or risk having a painful conversation somewhere down the line where you confess to your child that his or her entire unplanned existence stems from reliance on a faulty orange promotional Date Movie condom.
Item: Beanbag "Bloo," a 12-inch stuffed blue blob with embroidered eyes and a friendly smirk
Promoting: The DVD release of season one of Cartoon Network's Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends
Relevance to product promoted: Unquestionable. It's a squishy, 3-D version of one of the main characters.
Item quality: 4. It's a well-made toy—the only thing wrong with it is that it's completely useless. But its weirdly pleasant silky texture and gooshy bean interior may cause otherwise-irascible TV critics to sneak into the office when no one's looking, and hug it on the sly.
Item: A shower radio with a little American Idol logo on it (Note: Not the microphone-shaped model)
Promoting: American Idol
Relevance to product promoted: Obvious. Belting along to interminable Top 40 hits—even while not in the car or the club—will help doomed wannabes practice the "frantic post-rejection medley" technique so popular among the show's less-fortunate contestants.
Item quality: 2. Stamped on the radio's generic grey surface, the Idol logo is entirely perfunctory, and the piece of plastic that attaches it to the showerhead seems flimsy and unreliable. Be prepared to step on it and break some vertebrae during the third chorus of Jason Mraz's "The Remedy (I Won't Worry)."
Item: A weird little wind-up woman with spider legs
Promoting: The DVD release of the Russian fantasy-horror film Night Watch
Relevance to product promoted: Tolerable. A similar, though far more active, little spider-legged woman briefly appears in the film, as a sort of short-lived magical defense device.
Item quality: 2. Once you've seen the film, it's actually a less creepy, nigh-incomprehensible toy—the film itself is still creepy and nigh-incomprehensible, but the little spider-legged woman is just one little touch of strange among innumerable many. To fans and tyros alike, though, the toy is still going to be a cheap hunk of plastic that doesn't work very well, and tends to stall, go in jerky circles, or get its legs caught on everything around it, including whatever surface it's traveling on.
Item: A hideous paper mask bearing Rowan Atkinson's face, complete with vapid smile and swarthy stubble
Promoting: The upcoming book Mr. Bean's Guide To France and simultaneous film Mr. Bean's Holiday
Relevance to product promoted: Presumably negligible, unless the film contains a V For Vendetta-like sequence where an entire crowd of people dons Mr. Bean masks in order to stymie the fascistic manipulations of a totalitarian state.
Item quality: 1. It's a flimsy paperboard mask with cheap rubber bands attached, unsuitable for anything but making co-workers twitch via its sheer ugliness. Or alternately, for making yourself twitch—just leave it on your desk and see how long you can keep working with its eerily empty, soulless eyeholes watching you.
Item: A plastic turkey baster.
Promoting: Christopher Guest's recent film For Your Consideration.
Relevance to product promoted: Bafflingly unclear. Frankly, For Your Consideration was a turkey, especially compared with Guest's previous films. But that probably wasn't the point. Home For Purim, the film-within-a-film at the heart of For Your Consideration, is definitely a turkey, but is that enough of a connection? Eventually, pandering studio execs change the title to Home For Thanksgiving, which would imply a turkey connection, but… Are we overthinking this?
Item quality: 1. A plastic turkey baster? Seriously?
Item: An overflowing tray of Thanksgiving crap: french-fried onions, a bag of miniature marshmallows, a baster (good Lord, this is the year of the promotional turkey baster!), cornbread stuffing, powdered mashed potatoes, pumpkin-pie filling, jellied cranberry sauce, yams and green beans
Promoting: 10 Items Or Less
Relevance to product promoted: Unsettling. The TBS sitcom 10 Items Or Less takes place in a grocery store, and this big tray of promotional Thanksgiving crap belongs in the reject bin of the nastiest Aldi ever encountered. It'd be tempting to give away this crap to the local food pantry, but even the homeless and poverty-stricken have standards.
Item quality: 1. None of this food seems remotely edible. What human being in their right mind eats powdered mashed potatoes? (That overly optimistic "Homemade Has Met Its Match!" tagline isn't fooling anyone.) The 10 Items Or Less Thanksgiving tray does for food what the Date Movie Dating Kit does for sex: makes it look repellent and stomach-churning.
Item: A plastic basketball hoop and rubber ball
Promoting: The theatrical release of the Aardman Animations film Flushed Away
Relevance to product promoted: Nonexistent. Both hoop and ball have "Flushed Away" printed on them, with sort of a blobby blue pattern meant to suggest water, but neither one really says "Talking rats in an elaborate thrill-ride slash class-conscious children's CGI adventure" in any noticeable way.
Item quality: 3. It's about as well-made as any cheap plastic office-basketball game. But shouldn't it look more like a toilet or something, like all the rest of Flushed Away's advertising tie-ins? Or maybe make a toilet-flushing noise when you sink a sweet lay-up? Wait, on the other hand, maybe it's fine just as it is.
Item: A Snakes On A Plane promotional kit, including a Snakes On A Plane T-shirt, a hat, a little wooden snake-shaped pen, and a prank envelope marked "Rattlesnake Eggs—Caution: Keep in cool place to prevent hatching…" The latter contains a little device designed to rattle threateningly when the envelope is opened. Ha ha, easily startled or extremely gullible critics!
Promoting: The Snakes On A Plane DVD
Relevance to product promoted: Sorta iffy. It's all snake-themed, or at least Snakes On A Plane-themed, but that's about it. Though it does beat the pheromone-frenzied actual poisonous snakes that the promoters probably would have preferred to send all the critics that trashed the film.
Item quality: 4. For a promo package, it's impressively generous. Though it seems a little weird to send so much swag and not the DVD itself. Then again, the film itself was always the weakest part of the whole Snakes On A Plane phenomenon.
Item: Boxer shorts
Promoting: The Family Guy season-five DVD set
Relevance to product promoted: High. These boxer shorts for the um, generously proportioned gentleman contain the vaguely repellent image of Family Guy dad Peter Griffin along with his beloved "Freakin' Sweet" catchphrase. Now, Family Guy fans can use boxer shorts featuring a guy with a chin that looks like testicles to clothe their very own testicles. How freakin' sweet is that? (Answer: Pretty freakin' sweet.)
Item quality: 4. These roomy boxer shorts are surprisingly well-made and durable. Rumor has it that the American Dad promotional boxer shorts are just like the Family Guy promotional boxer shorts, only, you know, not as funny.
Item: Smoking-baby toy
Promoting: The Thank You For Smoking DVD
Relevance to product promoted: Exceedingly high. The smoking baby takes the libertarian pro-smoking ethos of tobacco lobbyist and Thank You For Smoking anti-hero Aaron Eckhart to its logical extreme. Just like Eckhart's character, the smoking baby is morally reprehensible yet strangely winning, and pretty damn funny to boot.
Item quality: 5. The little fucker really smokes, though the resulting fumes reek of incense rather than good old harmless tobacco. Extra props for the pack of tiny baby-sized cigarettes (Awwww! How adorable!) bearing the image of a monkey. Now, a smoking monkey, that'd be crazy.
Item: A five-ounce bottle of Liquid Summer Datil Sauce. The label pictures the face of a chef-hat-clad Florida bluesman, Sauce Boss.
Promoting: The 2006 release of Florida Blues by Sauce Boss And The Ingredients, featuring such bluesy howlers as "Let The Big Dog Eat" and "I'm Cookin'."
Relevance to product promoted: All too direct: In spite of the Boss' recognized guitar chops, most people would only pick up either item on a particularly frivolous trip to the Keys.
Item quality: 3. It tastes a tad watery at first, and follows up with a moderately spicy sting, so while it isn't terrible, it won't be boss of your spice cabinet anytime soon.
Item: Stickers bearing the logo of DJ CX Kidtronik—a girl's gigantic ass bursting out of her jeans, the cheeks forming the eyes of a grinning face
Promoting: CX Kidtronik's 2006 release Krak Attack, on which a slew of guest MCs rhyme incessantly about crack—be it in flesh or rock form—over Kidtronik's beats
Relevance to product promoted: Heavily dependent on loyalty. Sure, the theme is clear, but you'd have to love Kidtronik like a brother to get caught applying this sticker to anything that anyone could see anywhere.
Item quality: 1. Then again, at least the sticker doesn't treat you to the entirety of the album's art, which features not only this logo, but amateur photos of dozens of looming, anonymous, waistband-trouncing asses.
Item: A zombie survival kit. (For surviving zombie attacks, not helping zombies survive.)
Promoting: Max Brooks' book World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War.
Relevance to product promoted: Perfect in every way. The fact that everything in the kit is a real, useful item fits in precisely with Brooks' straight-faced, ongoing pretense that zombies are real, and that mankind is in serious trouble.
Item quality: 5. This is a ridiculously awesome package. It includes a set of foam earplugs and a warning whistle with a built-in working compass; a set of waterproof matches; an elaborate little first-aid kit complete with cold pack, scissors, tweezers, Band-aids, and antiseptic wipes, all in a convenient zippered canvas pouch; a pack of water-purification tablets; a copy of World War Z; and a bonus copy of Brooks' earlier book, The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From The Living Dead, all in a convenient little waterproof backpack. Score! Critic swag doesn't get any cushier than this.