Leave your charge cards home when you go see "Cannes Goods II," which collects 125 award-winning commercials from around the world and compresses them into 105 minutes of dizzying sale-abration. If you're at all impressionable, you're going to want to go shopping as soon as you leave the theater, probably for a foreign car, perfume or candy. At the very least, you'll be thirsty for some imported beers and ales.
While the idea of paying to sit through commercials may seem odd, many of these spots, mostly minute-long, are more entertaining than the programming they interrupt -- and they're almost always better made. Since only about 20 percent are American, most will be new. And since visual humor seems to be the common currency of international advertising, you'll get more laughs here (or at least cleaner laughs) than in an Eddie Murphy film.
Some intriguing national differences come through in these commercials. The British and Australians display a wry sense of humor, visual and verbal. The French, German and Scandinavian spots tend to be more ribald (and sometimes undressed). The Japanese entries are beautifully made, but seem technocratic. The American spots feature a melting-pot approach and tend to be subtly macho.
All the commercials are from the 1985 competition at Cannes (hence the film's name), and the biggest surprise is the winner, Pepsi's "Choice of a New Generation," in which a futuristic archeological expedition uncovers a split-level home. The leader explains some of the discoveries, including an electric guitar, but when a Pepsi-sipping student uncovers a Coke bottle and asks what it is, the archeologist says, "I don't know." Coming after 104 minutes of wild and witty spots, it falls curiously flat.
If there's a genre that consistently satisfies, it's the beer commercials, the ones from England in particular. In one, an older gent reminisces about first love while his beaming wife sits behind him ironing his shirts (it turns out he's talking about his favorite brand). In another, a spike-haired punk complains to her similarly attired best friend that her mate has abandoned her for two old geezers at the bar, all generational conflicts erased by their shared brand of ale.
The best car ads come from VW: In one, the car goes through its rounds in a boxing ring; in another, the VW Polo is the only real automobile in a road full of cars hilariously transformed into oversized sheep. (There are several other sheep images in this collection, which may or may not say something about consumers.) Another strong image in this category: a huge truck doing acrobatic turns on its side, only its two right wheels on the ground (not recommended, even on a test drive).
The British ads are typically congenial, either in the zany spirit of Monty Python or with the real-but-quirky-folks approach of "EastEnders." This is particularly true of various services being hyped, such as the central charge card offered after a surgeon performs an operation on a worker whose body has been reshaped by all the wallets, bills and sundry other items in his back pocket, or the discount bus permit for the elderly (a granny chugs along behind the bus until she gets to a zone she can afford).
The British have their odd products (Quirk, "the inside-out, back-to-front mint," and Snakwich, a device that seems to grill sandwiches and cut them at the same time). They also seem unusually willing to play with stereotypes, as in a pair of ads in which the husband suddenly assumes the role of homemaker and child-rearer (here, as elsewhere, it's sometimes hard to figure out just what product is being sold -- but really, you won't care).
Newspapers and magazines also do well. France's Le Soir sends haunted nonreaders wandering through the landscape like the Invisible Man in fresh threads; Germany's Petra promises insights into women's sexual fantasies by illustrating several of them; The Scotsman's pitchman is a Claymation figure who turns himself into just about every subject likely to be addressed in a day's paper.
National, a Japanese corporation, has several intriguing spots for batteries, lights, cassettes and robots (apparently, this is a conglomerate). In one, hands are cleverly painted to represent instruments and musicians; in another, light bulbs become flowers; in a third, a battery-powered monkey traverses a waterfall on a rope to deliver a letter to a child. Children figure prominently elsewhere; one of the better American commercials, for Hershey's New Trend, features some marvelous kids lip-syncing a variety of '50s rock 'n' roll hits. Another rock delight: a Comfits spot in which a baby zooms through the house to the strains of "I'm Walking" in order to avoid having his diapers changed.
The funniest American spot is Wendy's "Fashion Show," the one in which the same amply endowed Russian model keeps coming down a Soviet runway in the same ugly dress, but with different props. It may not do much for East-West relations, but it's wonderfully irreverent.
All in all, "Cannes Goods II" is lots of fun. Some of the commercials, particularly the foreign ones, are especially impressive on a big screen. It would be fine with me if America's ad agencies decided to rip them off -- just as Hollywood does with features like "Three Men and a Baby."
Cannes Goods II, opening today at the Key, is unrated and contains some brief partial nudity in some commercials.