Product placement in film and TV is as omnipresent as nostalgia and unnecessarily dark cinematography. It’s no longer shocking, and we just accept it as part of the deal. There is a line between verisimilitude and advertising when it comes to characters using real branded products on screen, one that you can’t quite define until you see it being crossed.
You can see the line being obliterated in theaters right now about halfway through “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” a sequel that begins as a highly entertaining family comedy before turning into a full-blown marketing exercise.
Perhaps you’ve seen parts of the offending scene in trailers: Summer schoolteacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) has a run-in with miniature Stay-Puft marshmallow men in a Walmart. And it’s clearly a Walmart: You see the logo on the exterior twice. You see the big signs hanging from the ceiling. You see close-ups of the sale tags on the store shelves as Gary watches the CGI characters who look and act very much like the Pillsbury Doughboy. The little dudes glide on a Roomba over to the grill aisle to make themselves into s’mores with Hershey’s chocolate.
And even before Stay-Puft shows up, Gary excitedly reaches into a freezer for his favorite pint of jamocha ice cream by Baskin-Robbins — the same company that Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang worked for in Marvel’s “Ant-Man”! I hope they send you some free Pralines and Cream once in a while, Paul.
“Ghostbusters: Afterlife” spends its first hour introducing likable new characters and an evocative rural setting to a franchise that badly needs a jolt. So it’s frustrating to see the second hour of the film devolve into a commercial for itself.
But that’s the era of cinema we’re in. Hopefully Maria doesn’t stop at Target before the big dance in next month’s “West Side Story” remake.
• Sean Stangland is an assistant news editor who will almost certainly pay to see another “Ghostbusters” sequel no matter what.