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Super Bowl Ad Review: Coen Brothers Try to Rev Audiences for Mercedes

Variety logo Variety 1/30/2017 Brian Steinberg
© Provided by Variety

Joel and Ethan Coen have lured moviegoers to films ranging from “The Big Lebowski” to “No Country for Old Men.” Can they now direct football fans to blow tens of thousands of dollars on a new Mercedes?

That will be the challenge come Sunday, when a 30-second ad will air during Super Bowl LI featuring Peter Fonda, the auto manufacturer’s slick AMG roadster, and a gang of burly bikers listening to Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild.” The question, of course, will be if the Coens can make the kind of art that leads to commerce.

Based on the teaser made available online – a 60-second behemoth that will no doubt be ill-served by the editor’s knife when it is cut down to half that length – the answer may be “No.”  After spending time with the colorful denizens of the tavern (it’s called “Tiny’s,” by the way) it’s hard to figure out why anyone other than the crowd at the bar would want to leave the place and take a gander at the car outside.

Mercedes’ new ad hinges on whether the hundreds of millions of viewers who will tune in to Fox this Sunday to watch the Atlanta Falcons scrap with the New England Patriots have any sort of affinity for Peter Fonda. The actor, known for, among other things, his role in the seminal 1969 film “Easy Rider” (which he co-wrote and produced), has been quieter in Hollywood as of late. Some of his most recent performances were in the Showtime series “Californication” and a remake of the Western “3:10 to Yuma” that starred Christian Bale and Russell Crowe.

The Super Bowl is typically a place for celebrities-of-the-moment, not of a certain era. Kim Kardashian for Skechers. Korean rapper Psy for Wonderful Pistachios. Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer for Bud Light. Alec Baldwin for Amazon. To be sure, there are exceptions to the rule, and they stand apart from the pack, like Jeff Bridges for Wix.com or Clint Eastwood or Bob Dylan for Chrysler. But the former example is more common.

In Tiny’s, Fonda is revered. There is a shrine built in his honor in a small alcove, and one of the Tiny bikers even has a tattoo that looks just the way the actor did in the film. That’s meant to convince us when the entire crew stops butting heads, partying and carrying on to rush out to the parking lot when they hear they are blocked in by an interloper (which turns out to be the Mercedes). Fonda’s appearance, for these folks, is a Rapture of sorts.

Too bad he doesn’t hang around very long after the camera pans longingly over his Mercedes automobile.

And it’s too bad the Tiny’s bikers aren’t the only ones the Coen brothers have to persuade. On Madison Avenue, bikers who harbor fond memories of “Easy Rider” aren’t the target. It’s people between the ages of 18 and 49. How many of those folks on the younger end of the spectrum are more familiar with “The Fast and the Furious” than they are “Easy Rider,” a Dennis Hopper-directed classic?

Who could question anything the Coen Brothers do? This miniature movie is an lovingly crafted ode to bikers, bars, Steppenwolf, “Easy Rider,” and luxury automobiles. But is it a formidable pitch to a younger generation that tunes in for the gridiron classic? Or a signal that they may not be watching in a number similar to their elders?

Grade: B

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