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Syrup

Syrup

He has a very punchable face, that's for sure,
and they both look very happy to be here

dir: Aram Rappaport

Syrup is an edgy, in-your-face satire of corporate madness and the dark side of the Force that is Marketing;

or

Syrup is a hilarious send-up of the American Dream and its malcontents: the people sucked in, chewed up and spat out by its machinations, which is pretty much everyone in the Western world;

or

Syrup is a limp approximation of what would happen if a bunch of uni students got stoned, drank a heap of energy drinks and then came up with a script based on their half-baked knee-jerk thoughts mocking Big Business and the Earth's mindless slovenly drones who do nothing but consume consume consume;

or

Syrup is the greatest film ever about anything.

The movie could be any of those, or none of those. What it would ultimately 'be', even if it was just, like, my opinion, man, is what I spun it to be. Apparently, the movie Syrup, based on the book Syrup, by Max Barry, is the first flick ever to posit the idea that creating desire in consumers, which is the pure purpose of marketers everywhere, is a bad thing.

Or at least it could be a bad thing, when done with evil intent. How the 'evil' intent can be distinguished from 'good' intent isn't defined by the motive, which presumably is always the profit motive. The marketing is 'evil' when it makes something bad happen to someone somewhere. It's not even that the product itself is harmful to consumers; it's that a 'brilliant' marketing idea could make consumers do horrible things in their pursuit of the product, and thus the marketing is 'wrong'.

I have to admit that I'm confused by many of the points the film seems to be making (on the other hand, I'd love to see how they market a film that pretends to be anti-marketing) even if by nature I think I agree with it(?)

The syrup of the title refers to that incredibly profitable and incredibly ubiquitous product, probably being Coke. Not the Columbian kind, but the far more addictive and harmful canned version that billions of people a day drink more than people drink clean water. In one of the flick's decent arguments, the main characters point out that without the Power of Marketing!, people are just drinking water and syrup.

With Powerful Marketing, however, they can transform the base product into an aspiration symbol, a totem and an unattainable object of desire, thus duping the great unwashed multitudes into shelling out their hard earned multiple times a day for it.

These hitherto unheard of ideas are related to us, mostly though voiceover, but mostly from the smart-alecky face of a young man who's rebranded himself Scat (Shiloh Fernandez). He has a million-dollar idea that could change the face of the sugary energy drink industry as we know it and lament it.

His idea isn't for an actual product, for some new concoction that thrills the tongue and makes people thinner, their boobs bigger and their dicks longer. His idea is solely for the name, and the marketing behind it. What’s in the can is irrelevant.

Is it? Are we that mindless in our consumption that we’ll drink something terrible if the right celebrity pretends to fawn over it? I’m probably the wrong person to ask, since I’ve never liked coke in any of its variations and never drink it.

And let’s not fuck around here: there are two massive, multi-billion multi-national corporations in this flick, and they’re clearly meant to be the good people at the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Atlanta, Georgia, and the even gooder people at the Pepsi Bottling Group. But that doesn’t matter, because they could be any company ruthless enough to sell shit to people and tell them it’s the nectar of the gods. I mention them here not just to point out that the Addison and Zeph-Co companies in the film are clearly real world analogues: I mention it because I’ve never been able to tell the difference between the two brands of cola.

If I can’t tell the difference, that doesn’t mean that countless millions don’t, but even I, with my intermediate knowledge of marketing from too many years at university know that cigarette smokers will swear black and blue (and bring up lung) if you point out that the ‘flavour’ they detect in their smokes is more dependent on the colour of the packet they cam in rather than anything in the actual tobacco.

Scat knows this too. He’s recently graduated with a marketing degree, and knows that a snappy name and a shiny bottle, with attendant desirable side-effects around it, could sell more than if you took Grange Hermitage fine wine and put it in wine casks. He’s so convinced of the brilliance of his idea, being to sell a product called Fukk, that he shares this idiotic idea to the Coca-Cola company only after having shared it with his semi-mysterious, semi-retarded housemate Sneaky Pete (Kellen Lutz).

They don’t call them Coca-Cola in the flick, unlike the book, but you know that’s who they are. If they’d actually called them that, the flick would have been buried at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, with millions of tonnes of poisonous black syrup poured on top of it for safekeeping.

To do this he has to run the gauntlet of a secretary and a security guard in order to get his idea before an infamous, notorious, legendary figure in creative marketing, being Six (Amber Heard).

Yes, a woman named Six. She is not only involved in Marketing, she is Marketing in its purest form. She has removed the aspects of herself that were genuine and human, and turned herself into the kind of woman who wouldn’t be out of place in an Ayn Rand novel. Icy, Olympian, superhuman, seductive but not sexual; even her sexuality is a form of marketing. She markets herself with her very existence, from her name to her clothing to every thing she says, and she ensures that she never, ever goes “off message”.

Naturally, she and Scat are perfect for each other in the way that a shiny blender looks good next to a shinier kettle. They are both mavens of the marketing world who do their best to market themselves in the most lucrative ways possible, but she has the ruthlessness he lacks, and he has an irritating remainder of humanity left over which makes him feel shitty when they do their marketing magic.

If my synopsis and my going-on about the stuff around the film makes it sound like I’m excited about it, perhaps I need to explain something. I love Max Barry’s books, some more than others, but I definitely am a fan. I loved Company far more than Jennifer Government, but liked Syrup enough. I’m a sucker for corporate warfare stories, and love the genre where the excesses of the current corporate world are twisted a bit in a slightly futuristic setting to make their most evil actions at least more fanciful and palatable, but still bracing.

With that being true, it hurts me to say that Syrup doesn’t deliver. The lead guy is okay, and the lead actress maybe is okay, but everything zippy and funny about the book has been gutted, leaving it a limp satire at best, and at worst a painfully shallow look at the shallowness of contemporary life. The main character’s actions don’t make a lot of sense in the back half of the film, nor does his remorse make a lot of sense, especially when the marketing campaign he comes up with which looked like it resulted in someone’s death, is something he repeats and makes worse another time, without any indication of why he thought it wouldn’t go sour again.

In the end the stupidity of consumers is underlined, instead of the idea that there’s any responsibility on the part of marketers to be honest to the masses their trying to dupe on a second-to-second basis. Even when I was thinking the words “what is the ethical or moral culpability of Scat and Six in relation to their Average Kokk marketing campaign and its effects on people?” I slapped myself in the face and realised how ridiculous it was expending brain energy nutting it out.

The tiny budget means most of the flick just doesn’t seem visually very credible at all, and elements that could have been avoided, that should have been avoided to hide the cheapness, weren’t, which perhaps means there was inexperience on the part of some of the people involved.

The perfect example of this is a scene where Scat and Six are having a tearful argument in the rain. When people feel bad, it’s important to have it raining around them, otherwise we’d have no idea that their words and actions mean they’re upset. But it’s filmed in the middle of the day, in the sun, with rain jetting down from sprinklers above them. I don’t have a problem with that, since I know whenever you can see rain falling in a movie, it ain’t actual rain. But it made me chuckle seeing the sunlight all around them, as these two lovebirds get drenched and yell stupid words at each other and pretend it’s not a bright, sun-shining day. Ah, the magic of the movies.

I didn’t like it. It doesn’t work as a romance at all, it sort of works a bit as a satire, but Max Barry’s own works have gone much farther, what with a section in one of his books where a company man hires assassins to kill people for their sneakers in order to generate news stories about people killing each other for their sneakers, naturally, sneakers called Assassins.

There’s no bite here, though, it’s too cleaned up, and while I appreciated a lot of the corporate marketing speak with its sheen of steely psychology and contempt for humanity, there wasn’t enough to care about here, and the unearned pathos injected towards the end rankled.

It’s a shame, it’s a damn shame. Maybe they’ll get it right with Company. After all, theirs is no more important question to be answered in the world than: Who stole my doughnut?

5 times no-one’s going to believe a film where Kirsty Alley is the successful spokesperson for an energy drink out of 10

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“What it comes down to, you see, is that a naked body is just a naked body.
But the possibility of a naked body is something special.” – perceptions equal erections - Syrup

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