Rating the ads: Clint makes my day

Fiat's Super Bowl ad adds real wow factor to its compact car offering.
Fiat's Super Bowl ad adds real wow factor to its compact car offering.
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Brian Lowry

A media columnist and critic for Variety since 2003, Brian Lowry spent seven years at the L.A. Times and has contributed to both NPR and TV Guide Network. He writes weekly for FOX Sports. A UCLA alum, Lowry proudly attended the '95 title game. MORE>>

As a rule, the commercials rated highest during the Super Bowl are the ones involving talking babies, super-hot women, cute animals or wild sight gags, like guys getting kicked in the crotch. Artistically speaking, that’s the equivalent of “Transformers” winning a People’s Choice Award.

The Super Bowl has become America’s national holiday to celebrate our collective love of couch potato-hood, with advertising drawing as much attention (especially from marginal fans) as the actual football. And while there was some genuine creativity on display Sunday — little 30- or 60-second gems — as usual, most companies didn’t conjure spots worthy of the reported $3.5 million per half-minute they paid to participate in the one day on which watching commercials is perfectly acceptable.

Nearly 20 percent of the ads came from car companies and another half-dozen were for movies. The latter are especially resistant to doing anything tailor-made to the Super Bowl, so they can be pretty well dismissed (although for the record, I’ll be in line for “The Avengers” on opening weekend).

Budweiser — a usual stalwart — had a really bad year, creatively speaking, which didn’t help matters. Of the rest, who rose to the occasion and who fell short? Here’s a breakdown from someone who watches TV for a living, but, like any right-thinking person with a DVR, skips the ads whenever possible. (And for the record, I would buy David Beckham’s underwear only if I could look like David Beckham in it, so no sale.)

The Good (in descending order)

Chrysler: Using Clint Eastwood to deliver a patriotic “It’s halftime in America” message about the US auto industry was shameless, yes, but it will put a lump in a lot of throats — and it’s sure to be the ad that people debate for its political underpinnings on Monday.

Fiat: Man sees stunning Italian woman — but she’s a car! Perhaps the best illustration of the relationship between buying a car and testosterone I’ve seen in a while. and For whatever reason, dot-coms delivered the only laugh-out-loud spots of the day: A kid who desperately needs a bathroom winds up peeing in the pool; and a guy whose confidence sings to him. Will it make me use either website? Probably not.

Honda: The “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” spoof featuring Matthew Broderick actually plays much better in the long version posted to the web than what aired. But it still was OK.

Chevy: It takes major cojones to do a commercial about the end of the world, but the payoff — Chevy drivers survived; Dave, who’s missing, “drove a Ford” — is clever enough to make it work.

MetLife: Assembling all those cartoon characters, such as Voltron, along with the Peanuts gang provided a nifty sense of nostalgia, especially for baby boomers.

Doritos: A dog buys a guy’s silence for a missing cat with a misspelled note (appropriately) and a bag of Doritos. OK, so cat lovers won’t love it; everyone else will.

Volkswagen: Not as good as last year’s “Star Wars”-themed ad, but still pretty funny — using the first movie’s cantina scene.

Toyota: Its spot for the Camry — basically, everybody owns one — was heart-warming, while its second ad about reinventing things like babies and the DMV was genuinely clever and fun.

Bridgestone: Using former NFL and current NBA stars to make a point about the maneuverability of its tires should connect with men, and at least indicates knowing who your audience is.

The Silly

Pepsi and Coke: Working Elton John into a spot showcasing “The X Factor” winner was lavish but empty, and Coke’s polar bears — always beautiful to look at — didn’t deliver much fizz this year. Try something new, please?

Acura: Sorry, you’ll never convince me Jerry Seinfeld — or Jay Leno, for that matter — wants to drive an Acura.

Chevy Sonic: Honestly, I don’t care if my car can bungee jump. How’s the gas mileage?

Skechers: A short-legged dog takes on greyhounds in his cool new shoes. Like Budweiser’s beer-fetching dog, cute, but yawn.

E-Trade, CareerBuilders and GoDaddy: That talking baby, those wacky chimpanzees and pretending you’re going to show me a naked lady are all so 2010.

Samsung Mobile: That was a lot of effort to just say “Screw you, Apple,” wasn’t it?

Teleflora: If buying flowers will get me a date with that girl, I’ll consider it. But let’s get real. The same goes for that Kia Motors commercial, which played like a bad acid trip.

The Bad

Bud Light: The brewer’s spots for its new Platinum brand looked completely idiotic. Frankly, if I want to drink a snobby beer, I’ll drink something other than Bud, dude. Ditto for Budweiser’s “end of Prohibition” and 60 years of US history commercials, which looked like they cost a bundle to produce but had no payoff.

Century 21: Yeah, their agents are smarter than smart and faster than fast. And your commercial is stupider than stupid.

Email: Twitter: blowryontv.

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