Back in the 1970's it seemed unthinkable to release a German film in the United States that was made all for laughs. Such directors as Wim Wenders, Ranier Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog made German films into the serious dramatic art form. But within the last few years with such films as Run Lola Run and Our Desert Island show that the German film industry has lightened up.
I'm not sure it's for the better. Advertising Rules! (aka Viktor Vogel: Commercial Man) is a lukewarm German comedy about a goofy young man who gets caught up in the ruthless and absurd world of advertising. Viktor Vogel (played by newcomer Alexander Scheer) is a lanky young man who wakes up one day and decides to delicately force his way into an ad agency. With a bit of dumb luck he not only gets into a pitch meeting but he turns the head of a big executive and gets himself hired.
The agency at first simply uses him for a big pitch but he is such an original and strange character that he ends up pulling all the strings. And before they know what's hit them he virtually has the agency on their knees in support of his peculiar personality and crazy ideas.
But, of course, some kind of conflict has to present itself and this film has a couple good (if not predictable) ones. First, Viktor is in a position where he is compelled to become the partner of Eddie Kaminsky (Gotz George) the most successful Advertising Director the agency had ever had. And Eddie isn't too glad to be spending time with Viktor – whom he refers to as a 'sewer rat'.
Second, Viktor has stolen his great agency-saving idea from Rosa (Chulpan Khamatova) his new found artistic girlfriend, who is such a cute, sweet thing it kills him to betray her trust. But – under heavy pressure – he does anyway because the world of advertising expects nothing less.
In time everyone begins to get along very well and then in the third act it all comes crashing down. Viktor learns some hard lessons about lying and betrayal and the only thing the film seems to ask is when will he finally see how crooked the advertising world is, clear his conscience and set everything straight. It's a testament to the film that he doesn't solve everything too neatly. Or at least not in the way that we would expect from such a light comedy.
The performances are all quite good. Newcomer Scheer hams it up a lot (maybe too much) and the older actor George provides a good balance to the whole affair. Unfortunately, the direction by Lars Kraume is a bit flat. Many scenes, which should otherwise be very funny, come across as mildly amusing or annoying. And too the film's message about the corrupt lure of advertising and the nature of lying is never fully worked out. In short, the film is no where as good or interesting as a Herzog, a Fassbinder of a Wenders film but -- for a 108 minutes -- it is a fair entertainment.