Most big-studio films have promotional screenings in all the major U.S. markets a few days before they open, with free passes handed out by local radio stations and a couple rows of seats taped off for the movie critics. At many of these screenings, there are "prizes" to be given away, by which I mean worthless crap like posters or cheap T-shirts with the film's logo. It doesn't matter how little value a thing has, though. If it's being given away for free, the people who attend these screenings regularly WANT IT. They will squabble with their fellow prize pigs to get it, and become sullen if they come away empty-handed.

"We don't just want a free movie!" they seem to say. "We want free merchandise to go with it! What a gyp! Also, we want to sit in the press row, even though there are plenty of other open seats and the press row has been clearly labeled and we know we are not press! WE ARE ENTITLED TO EVERYTHING!!"

Ahem. But sometimes, they have enough free crap for everyone to get some. This was the case at last night's Fast & Furious screening here in Portland (and presumably in some of the other markets, too), but the specific promotional items they chose are a little baffling. First, there were little boxes of Red Hots -- you know, the hard cinnamon candy? -- in special Fast & Furious packaging. Second, there were flying disks (not Frisbees, because that's a trademark for a specific manufacturer of flying disks) with the logo, tagline, and website.

Having now seen the film, I can tell you that there is nothing in it that would suggest Red Hots and Frisbees as obvious marketing gimmicks. At no point do any of the film's characters eat Red Hots (or any kind of candy) or throw Frisbees (or any kind of flying disk). There is no apparent connection between the film's title and either of these things, except maybe that Frisbees are "fast" and a cinnamon-based candy might taste "furious." But that's a stretch.

If they really wanted to represent the film, with its hammy acting and cheesy storyline, a nice ham-and-cheese sandwich would have been nice. That also would have tied in with the first Fast and the Furious, which had one of Vin Diesel's idiot friends saying, with regard to Paul Walker's regular visits to a particular diner, "What is this guy, sandwich crazy or something?" (That's one of my favorite dumb movie lines of the decade.)

The disks were made by a company called Humphrey Flyer (says so on the back). Their website indicates that the 7 1/4" disks are $1.79 each for a case of 250, though the price comes down the more cases you get. If Universal got at least 10 cases (2,500 disks), they might have paid $1.49 or less per disk -- though that's still $3,725 for 10 cases. They probably made more than that. And goodness knows what the Red Hots cost.

But is Universal getting its money's worth? Are these promotional items useful as a marketing tool, especially considering they're being given out to people who have already decided to see the movie? Is the idea that people will take the flying disk to the park or the beach, where it will be seen by passersby, who will then be inspired to see the movie? Does that even work? On the other hand, I am talking about it right now, even if it's in the context of making fun of it. All publicity is good publicity.

Finally, I note that the film's website, mentioned on the flying disk, is FastAndFuriousMovie.net -- not dot-com, but dot-net. FastAndFuriousMovie.com was registered by a cyber-squatter (a company that buys up domain names so it can resell them); Universal apparently didn't think it was worth paying whatever the squatter wanted for rights to the dot-com domain, so they settled for dot-net and spent that money on Frisbees instead. A sound investment, I'm sure!