Barbara Lippert’s Critique

Obviously, there’s no minimizing the impact of Mini-Me. Mutely but brilliantly played by actor Vern Troyer, Dr. Evil’s tiny clone made the Austin Powers sequel, The Spy Who Shagged Me, funnier than the first, and the MM phrase was on the tip of most movie-going kids’ and parents’ lips at the time, two years ago.

Here in the summer of 2001, Troyer suddenly pops up in two new ad campaigns—for Sunny Delight and 1-800-Collect. In the movie, Mike Myers ticks off Mini’s good points as, “He’s evil, he wants to take over the world, and he fits easily into overhead storage.” But for the rest of us, why Vern, and why now?

First, he’s probably got an aggressive agent—Troyer is busy doing movies too. And second, never underestimate the desperation of souped-up juice drinks to reach the tween market (kids between nine and 15). Or the need of a phone service to break through to those who are 18-24 chronologically but still tend to honor their inner tweensters by calling collect. And for that sector, apparently no movie character has yet replaced Mini -Me in memorability.

An elaborate, artfully made production, the Sunny D spot pays direct homage to the spirit of the movie and throws in a little bit of Mission Im pos sible, too. It opens on a high-tech laboratory in a “Carib bean stronghold.” Troyer, dressed in some sort of one-piece camouflage wear, is evil Dr. D.

“Once I’ve harnessed the power of the Caribbean sun, I will be unstoppable,” he says. A kid appears and says, “Dude, it’s been done.” That line seems to be a perfect critique of the ad, which is a takeoff on the whole Dr. Evil/Austin Powers genre, in it self a parody and sometimes a parody of a parody.

But apparently the kid means the harnessing thing has been done, and these new drinks with Caribbean-style flavors are the product of it. Cut to a visual of a surfboard and flying limes and lemons and mangoes. Nice animation, but seemingly out of nowhere. Then Vern comes back on a string, now in Ninja wear, trying to break into some Sunny D tanks.

It’s certainly more inventive than the ads of some years back, which tried reaching moms by having a kid stand next to a refrigerator and tell his friend, “Your mom’s cool. She buys Sunny D.” But as far as getting across the deliciousness of a new drink, it can’t, because it’s way too busy.

The 1-800-Collect spot teams Troyer with Michael Jordan and is, by comparison, very simple: just two guys, one big, one small, both bald, trying to remember.

Of course, phone-service ads have become the “ring around the collar” of our times in terms of sheer repetition and annoyingness. The 1-800-Collect folks constantly refresh their pitchpersons in order to reach new heights of in-your-face irritation. Previously we had Alyssa Milano and David Spade. (And I’ll take them over 1-800-CallATT’s Carrot Top.) By comparison, we have attained endorser heaven here.

Jordan has a certain ease and mastery of the form, no matter how many products he pitches. Vern ap pears in street clothes, no costume, no makeup, just being himself. There is something creepy about him sitting in a tiny chair on an immense Clock work Orange-like white block, to raise him to the height of Jordan’s head, but you get over it once the dialogue starts.

They are trying to recall stuff that isn’t true. “Remember when I beat you at one-on-one?” Troyer says. “What was the score?” Jordan asks. “I don’t remember,” Verne says with his hand in his mouth, a nice acting touch.

It’s a start. The two will appear on the basketball court and in other action sequences in future spots. It’s an overly contrived pairing. But thankfully they didn’t try to make Troyer a perfect little clone of Jordan. That truly would have been gro tesque. Or as Austin himself put it, “Ouch, baby, very ouch.”