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The food photography is very good. One of the commercials is very funny for a while, until it stops being funny. They have found the right talent, sort of. And they have rediscovered their Unique Selling Proposition.

That's everything positive that can be said about the new campaign for Hardee's, the hamburger chain, from the Leap Partnership, Chicago.

The moribund Southeastern and Midwestern burger chain was acquired by the high-flying California-based Carl's Jr., and this campaign marks their semi-integration.

For instance, here are introduced the All Star bacon cheeseburger, identical to the one Carl's Jr. sells, and the Super Star, the juice-dripping half-pounder that substantially propelled Carl's good fortunes. See? The star logo and nomenclature worked for Carl's Jr., so why not give it to Hardee's?

Um, because it's stupid?

Because, to Hardee's customers, it's a non sequitur?

Because it's the menu, not the star character, that built the business?

Never mind. The new owners are trying everything to revive their new asset. Everything, all at once. The new campaign borrows about every idea under the sun, in the hope that one or another of them might make the difference. For instance, the ads revolve around an anthropomorphic, prima donna, five-point star, pretty much a direct knockoff of the Jack in the Box chain's talking jack-in-the-box-headed spokespuppet.

Aimed at teen-age boys and young men, the spots take a very ironic, self-referential, postmodern (and by now very tiresome) advertising-about-advertising approach, as we watch this self-absorbed character get hired, perform and even get injured in the production of Hardee's commercials.

That, by the way, is the semi-funny one. He accidentally catches fire, like Michael Jackson. But the gag quickly fizzles.

Most of the others never get ignited in the first place.

"Why are there so many shots of the food and so few of me?" the star complains, in one spot, ostensibly after screening a rough cut. "I mean, people know what a burger looks like. Do we really have to show it six times?"

Hardee har har.

That's the big problem. This premise can work only if the actual commercials are hilarious, which these are not at all. Directed by Paul (son of Leslie) Dektor, they are clunky, mistimed and basically annoying. The stereotype of the blowhard celebrity simply isn't funny anymore, whether it's dressed up as a smiley star or not.

Oddly, they have the right talent in the sardonic Norm Macdonald, who was well liked before being fired by "Saturday Night Live" and now a beloved martyr, especially to this target audience. But here it is just a voice. They should have ditched the star conceit and just hired the guy to pitch for them.

They should also pick up on the charbroiling message, only barely mentioned in two of these spots. Charbroiling was long the chain's USP, but foolishly abandoned. Now the new owners are preparing to unabandon it, and they should do so quickly.

This chain can never compete with McDonald's and Burger King in marketing clout, location or anything else. But it can-like Carl's Jr.-compete on the strength of its food. A juicy, charbroiled burger will appeal to the hungry male adolescent and could turn the business around.

But not with a cluttered, obnoxious advertising message. Hardee's has reason to

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