To coin a phrase: It was the best of product placements. It was the worst of product placements. On Sept. 10, Finnish cell-phone handset maker Nokia (NYSE:NOK) will become a major Hollywood action movie star opposite Kim Basinger. Its new Nokia 6600 videophone will get the title role in the film "Cellular," distributed by Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) New Line Cinema, as the heroic phone used by a police officer to track down a kidnapped Ms. Basinger.

With Nokia's new phone featuring so prominently in the storyline, and presumably garnering lots of close-ups with the company's trademark prominently displayed, what could possibly go wrong with this product placement? Lots. You see, in addition to being a vehicle to revive Ms. Basinger's fallen star-hood, this movie aims to "connect with people" -- much as Nokia does itself -- by getting them to identify with the frustrations of the police officer as he attempts to track down and rescue Ms. Basinger.

He will endure short battery life, "one-bar" signal situations, and the misnamed customer "service" of his cell-phone provider. Reportedly, at one point the poor constable gets so frustrated that he discharges his sidearm in a cell-phone store. Lucky for him that, in order to stay connected to Ms. Basinger so the film can come to the usual happy ending, the officer can be reasonably certain he will not have to deal with dead zones or dropped calls.

The negative portrayal of cell-phone service in the U.S. was sufficiently traumatic to scare away literally every cell-phone provider approached with a product placement offer. That includes SBC Communications (NYSE:SBC) and BellSouth (NYSE:BLS) joint venture Cingular, Sprint (NYSE:FON), and Nextel (NASDAQ:NXTL), according to TheWall Street Journal. Verizon (NYSE:VZ) Wireless may or may have not been approached by the film's makers, but AT&T Wireless claims no one even contacted them. That's kind of funny, in a movie about lousy cell-phone service -- although the repeated attempts to sign Cingular on for the movie make sense for the same reason.

The providers' reluctance to attach their names to this film is understandable. And even Nokia is taking a risk in what is probably the most prominent product placement ever conceived. As for whether it pays off in the end for the company -- well, I don't want to spoil the ending.

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Fool contributor Rich Smith owns shares in Nokia but has no ownership interest in any of the other companies mentioned in this article.