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Friday, October 23, 2015

Jem and the Holograms

Jem and the Holograms is an overly long, lethargic and cheaply made mess of nostalgia.  It completely misses what made the 1980s cartoon such a big hit with girls at the time, so much so that Jem was briefly able to dethrone the all-mighty Barbie as the queen of the fashion dolls.  The cartoon was a wild and raucous mix of MTV and Sci-Fi, with the kind of corniness only a show aimed at kids in the 1980s could get away with.  This live action film is a meandering and dull story about a Youtube star who almost loses her friends, and goes on a scavenger hunt set up by her dead father with the aid of an R2-D2 knockoff.

What's strange is despite the sluggish nature of the film, the plot rushes through itself at breakneck speed, almost as if director Jon M. Chu (who brought us both Justin Bieber documentaries) was as anxious for the movie to be over with as I was while I was watching it.  The plot of Jem takes place within the time span of a month or so, by my estimate.  And what happens to these characters during this one month?  Let's see...Our heroes become Internet celebrities, become a cultural phenomenon, get a record contract, create a rock band image and perfect dance routines, perform three concerts, break up with each other, get back together, go on a treasure hunt with a robot, fall in love, break into a record studio, receive a holographic recorded message from beyond the grave, inspire millions of young people to stand up for themselves, and change the course of the music industry forever.  Oh, and they also apparently prevent their Aunt's house from getting foreclosed on, but the movie kind of forgets to tell us if they were successful or not at this.  I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt.

You're probably asking yourself how a movie can cram all of that into just under two hours, and be boring.  Looking back over the paragraph I just typed, so am I.  The characters in this movie are so devoid of life and personality, it doesn't matter what crazy stuff happens to them, it still manages to be utterly dull.  For a character like Jem, who prided herself on being "truly, truly, truly outrageous" in her theme song, this is like a slap in the face for former fans who will come to the movie hoping to recapture some nostalgia.  Jem's true identity is Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples), a withdrawn 18-year-old who likes to write music, but is afraid to perform in front of other people.  The only way she is comfortable performing is when she slaps on a pink wig she finds in a garage, puts on outlandish clothes and make up, and calls herself "Jem", which was her dead father's nickname for her.  Jerrica lives in a big house with her Aunt Bailey (80s icon Molly Ringwald, sadly given little to do here), sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott), and adopted sisters Shana (Aurora Perrineau) and Aja (Hayley Kyoko).  The girls make music together, while poor Aunt Bailey frets all day about the eviction notices she keeps getting in the mail.

One fateful day, Kimber happens to upload one of Jerrica's "Jem" videos up on Youtube, and overnight the thing goes viral.  Almost instantly, the shady head of Starlight Music, Erica Raymond (a lifeless Juliette Lewis) is banging on their door, offering a recording contract and concert deal.  The girls are moved into their own mansion, complete with a hunky bodyguard named Rio (Ryan Guzman), who becomes Jerrica's love interest.  The girls are launched into superstardom in a matter of hours supposedly, and performing sell out gigs.  Forget a movie about these girls, I want to see a movie about whoever managed to turn them into a professional band and got them these gigs only hours after they signed the dotted line on the contract.  While all this is going on, the girls discover a robot named Synergy that Jerrica's dad was working on before he died.  It communicates through whistles and chirps, and leads the girls to a series of clues left behind by dear old dad.  Luckily he chose to hide the clues in places that wouldn't be disturbed in over 10 years.  There's also a subplot where the scheming Erica creates a rift in the band by convincing Jerrica to go on as a solo act, but since this is resolved immediately after a three minute montage, it's hardly worth mentioning.

Jem and the Holograms is a confused mess that veers wildly between teen girls living the rock star dream, and those same girls following a little robot around as it shows them holographic maps of California to track down the next clue to a cryptic puzzle.  The movie never meshes, flows or finds a consistent tone.  You would think that a movie like this would at least have a sense of humor to itself, but no; the tone is flat and serious.  Everything is treated as if it has such immense dramatic weight, even though it doesn't.  Maybe certain events would have more dramatic weight if the movie didn't just constantly gloss over the details.  The girls want to get into an exclusive nightclub, because it holds a key to dad's riddle.  Unfortunately, the nightclub is so exclusive, they're told they could never book it.  Cut to the next scene, and the girls are being told that they've booked the club to perform.  And at one point, it looks like Jerrica's sisters are mad, and are going to leave the group.  But don't worry - After a quick music montage, they're hugging it out in front of Jerrica's old home, because you know, they're sisters.

Oh, did I dislike this movie.  It's one of those films where the only question you can ask is what were they thinking?  Why choose to do a live action adaptation of a cartoon that prided itself on bizarre Sci-Fi and Fantasy-related plotlines, and make is so thoroughly mediocre and ordinary?  I'm sure that the robot was supposed to be a nod to those qualities, but if it is, it's a failed attempt by the filmmakers.  This is a movie that seems to have had all life and energy drained from it.  Not even the musical performances are enough to salvage what's up on the screen.  Not only are the songs instantly forgettable, but they're just plain badly shot and boring to watch.  The movie keeps on stressing that Jem's music is about hope and rising above bullying and hatred, as evidenced by fake Youtube videos that keep on interrupting the movie where fans talk about what her music means to them, and how it has helped them in their young lives.  It would be nice to hear those songs the fans are talking about, as I never heard any such messages in the music played during the film.

Jem and the Holograms is a misfire in just about every way imaginable, and the fact that the movie has a scene during the end credits that sets up a sequel (the scene involves the rival girl band from the cartoon, The Misfits) can only be seen as blind optimism on the part of the filmmakers.  Actually, that credit scene captures the spirit of the cartoon better than the movie that we just saw, kind of making you wonder why they didn't just go in that direction in the first place.

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