Jem and the Holograms (2015)

(On Cable TV, August 2016) I have almost no memory of the 1980s TV cartoon which Jem and the Holograms is based, so I approached the film wondering if it would take life on its own. Unfortunately, it doesn’t: a teen movie inspired by source material watched by their parents, it’s a bizarre mix of contemporary Internet buzzwords, robotic fantasy, treasure quest, wish fulfillment, limp musical numbers and dumb plotting. The tone is wistful on the verge of maudlin, completely missing out on the premise’s potential for fun and comedy. The result is simply not very good, and the nods toward the source material actually make the film worse. The (pre) teenage audience of the movie is likely to be disappointed by its dumb-even-for-kids plotting, with idiot decisions everywhere compounded with stupid assumptions. (The treasure hunt depends on hiding something in a major landmark for years, the protagonists coincidentally playing at a particular venue and them choosing to break into a place where they already have access. Most movies for kids have better plotting than this!) Jem and the Holograms has an irritating tendency to use the Internet as a magic trick (A million views on one video in a day or two! Massive success in weeks!!), approaching condescension along the way. Perhaps most damning, however, is the flat direction. Coming from director Jon M. Chu, who has a few energetic movies in his filmography (Step Up 3D, G.I. Joe: Retaliation), this is a significant disappointment. Even blending mixed-media on-screen (via VHS tapes, Google Earth flybys, web browser windows, YouTube videos and the like) doesn’t work all that well. The musical number are dull and the rest of the film’s direction doesn’t impress either. The actors, fortunately, do better than their material. Aubrey Peeples does have a compelling charm to her as protagonist Jem, while Juliette Lewis looks more animated than she’s been in years as a scenery-chomping villain executive. Still, it doesn’t help much. Maybe it was a budget (the film was reportedly shot for a ridiculous-sounding $5M), or a lack of care and ambition. No matter: the result is unremarkable even with low expectations. Jem and the Holograms should have been much better, or at least far more enjoyable.

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