Cinema Dispatch: Jem and the Holograms

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Jem and the Holograms and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures

Directed by Jon M Chu

We all saw the trailer and most of us had one reaction which was to try and repress our gag reflexes.  It just seemed like a really poor adaptation of a cartoon that probably means a lot for many people and a much lesser version of what we’re currently getting from the IDW comics.  Still, trailers aren’t always accurate in showing what a movie will ultimately be, and the director is someone I think has quite a bit of talent.  Can they manage to make something at least half way decent of a series that’s ripe for an updated adaptation?   Yeah… no.  It’s not good at all.  Just how bad did they screw this up?  Let’s find out!!

The movie follows Jerrica Benton (Aubrey Peeples)  who lives with her aunt (Molly Ringwald), her sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott), and her two foster sisters Shana and Aja (Aurora Perrineau and Hayley Kiyoko).  Her father died some time ago which is why she and Kimberly are living with Claire Standish and her the other two and the only thing he seems to have left (the guy most not have had insurance) is a non-functioning robot he made and a pair of ear rings that sadly don’t do what you think they should do.  All is not good at the house Pretty in Pink bought however, because the bank is foreclosing on them for… some reason, and Jerrica finds out about it.  In what I guess is either a despite move to get internet famous or an outlet of her frustration, she puts on a bunch of make, hides in the shadows, and films herself singing a song she wrote.  She’s too afraid to post it online because they had to put in at least SOMETHING Jem related (Jerrica’s fear of performing) but Kimber ends up getting a hold of it puts it online.  Sure enough, a poorly filmed video of a girl singing while strumming an acoustic guitar becomes the next big YouTube sensation and everyone is instantly in love with whoever this Jem is.  In comes the EVIL head of Starlight Records Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis playing a gender swapped version of Eric Raymond) to offer Jem a deal with her label.  She eventually agrees, gets her siblings to go along with her (not the Aunt because who needs adult supervision these days?) and they begin their journey to super stardom with all its ups and downs, betrayals and reconciliations, romances with hot dudes, and everything else you’ve seen before.  Oh, and the robot’s name is Synergy and it’s doing… something.  Whatever.  OH!  And Rio is actually Erica’s son.  Because why not.

“This is REALLY gonna suck, isn’t it?”

“This is REALLY gonna suck, isn’t it?”

Did you know this is a found footage movie?  I certainly didn’t know that walking in, but about ninety percent of the cinematography is from a handheld (no one can use a damn tripod in this) and about half of that is actually supposed to be from characters holding cameras.  Not only that, but the sets in this movie feel empty and lifeless with no more than six or seven people on screen at once unless it’s stock footage of crowds or one of the scarcely few concert scenes.  This empty feeling isn’t helped by the fact that every transition in this movie (to get the characters from one place to another) is literally just a shot of Google Maps going from one location to another with a very prominent logo in the bottom left corner.  It’s also one of the worst offenders of the “Show don’t tell” principal in that we never get a sense of how popular she is other than random news voiceovers saying that EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT JEM, or people pointing at computer screens saying how many hits they have.  None of it sells in the least, and all of this movie’s cinematography is limp and lifeless which only furthers just how cheap this movie was.  HOW CHEAP IS IT!?  This movie is one of thirteen films that Blumhouse Productions has shat out this year and this has a total budget of only five million dollars.  Transformers?  Two hundred million budgets each movie.  G.I. Joe?  Hundred million.   Battleship?  TMNT?  EVERY ONE OF THESE HAD LEGITIMATE STUDIO BACKING!  Jem?  Let’s farm it out to the production company that gave us six progressively worse Paranormal Activity movies.  And that’s really it.  Whatever else I have to say about this movie (and I have A LOT to say about it) can be traced back to a single issue.  No one from Hasbro to Blumhouse to Allspark to SB Projects to Universal Pictures gave a shit about this movie.  The studio that spends hundreds of millions of dollars for a board game adaptation couldn’t be bothered to put a tenth of that into making this.  The production company that at its peak could make creative and entertaining horror movies is asleep at the wheel here either from general disinterest or total incompetence at the prospect of making a movie aimed at children (and young girls in particular).  This isn’t just a bad movie, this is an effigy.  A testament to how unsupportive the Hollywood system is to entertainment targeted at females demographics and how it continues to perpetuate that notion by not giving promising properties a fighting chance.

“Now look.  We don’t have money, decent cameras, a workable script, or even much connection to the source material, but we have name recognition damn it!  And we’re gonna take that straight to the top of the box office, right!?!?”

“Now look.  We don’t have money, decent cameras, a workable script, or even much connection to the source material, but we have name recognition damn it!  And we’re gonna take that straight to the top of the box office, right!?!?”

But all that is why it SUCKS that this movie sucks.  Let’s get into why this movie actually sucks.  The writing is dreadful overall; equal parts stilted dialogue and poor plotting that are combined together with a cliché rags to riches storyline.  The only writer attached to this is Ryand Landels whose credits so far include a TV movie and a web series that was created by the director of this movie (Jon M Chu).  I’m not saying that someone without much experience shouldn’t be given the opportunity to write something like this, but considering how awful the final product turned out it really feels like he got the job because he knew the director which is yet another sign that points to this being a half-hearted production.  Outside of the dull as dishwater musician story, they add a half-assed subplot that I guess are supposed to get all the fans super-duper excited and nostalgic which involves a robot thingy her deceased father made and trying to put it back together.  The robot’s name is Synergy by the way, and it does not have a humanized avatar as they did in the previous incarnations.  It doesn’t even create holograms.  Yeah, the little robot thing doesn’t create the Jem persona; it’s instead just her wearing makeup and a wig which seems like a REALLY weird thing to change when your movie is called JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS.  What it CAN do is project home videos and vague clues for Jem and her friends to follow in between the perfunctory jabs at the music industry.  Question:  Why make a Jem and the Holograms movie and not include holograms?  Also, writing pro-tip:  If you’re INCREDIBLY ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY could be replaced by a camcorder and some of those old VHS-C tapes, then you’re sci-fi element serves no purpose.  Synergy just kind of putters around like a weak sauce WALL-E and will occasionally project some videos when you shove a science thingy into its chest cavity, which of course were hidden around the city of San Francisco for the last ten years without ANYONE ELSE FINDING THEM!!

“Shall I help you find your father’s home movies, or destroy humanity?”     “We’re gonna go with the former for now.”

“Shall I help you find your father’s home movies, or destroy humanity?”     “We’re gonna go with the former for now.”

Because they shove this asinine subplot into the movie, it takes time away from the MAIN plot which on top of being overly familiar and completely without imagination just moves too damn fast!  There’s obviously going to be a point where Jerrica betrays her friends (for the most obviously noble reasons because having a character actually makes a bad decision would be too much for this movie) and then wins them back eventually.  That entire plot point though, is introduced and wrapped up inside of ten minutes.  Hell, they aren’t pissed at her for even a night.  We get ONE musical montage and that’s it.  The three who got cut out don’t have to go to bed angry because this movie doesn’t have time for stuff like character development or story arcs.  Just speed through everything and screw it if it doesn’t make sense.  On top of the cheap production values, overly trite script, and slipshod fan service, the character of Jerrica Benton is disappointingly realized here as a total pushover and is basically deprived of her own agency in the story that is supposedly about her struggles to find herself.  I’m pretty sure the characters are much younger than in the other incarnations which are the original series and the IDW comic book, and this means that a lot of changes had to be made.  These could have worked if done properly (the IDW comic is hardly an exact copy of the cartoon), but none of the changes feel like they were beneficial.  Jerrica DOES NOT own half of Starlight Records, there is no Starlight Foundation or Starlight Home for Girls, and she doesn’t even get to name the band.  In fact, the band is just called Jem until the very end when Rio just tells a reporter that that is what they’re going to be called without consulting with the Jerrica, Kimber, Aja, or Shana.  Oh, and Rio gets a MUCH bigger role here than he really should.  As the son of Erica Raymond, he ends up owning Starlight Records at the end of the movie (through very contrived means) and so he’s now officially Jerrica’s boss on top of being the love interest.  Spectacular…

“With abs like these, why shouldn’t I be in charge?”

“With abs like these, why shouldn’t I be in charge?”

Despite all the unforgivable problems this movie has, there are some good aspects.  We get three scenes in this where the Jem (and they yet to be named Holograms) perform onstage.  It’s in these moments that the movie actually comes to life to show you what it COULD have been and they’re the only times that Jon M Chu actually seems awake long enough to competently film this movie.  There are big lights, bright colors, competent cinematography, decent music (nothing great but good enough for a movie like this), and strong character moments.  It’s brief, but these scenes do show the band a having some legitimate talent and stage presence as well as the ability to think quickly and not stumble under pressure.  We never buy Jerrica as the world changing artist that the movie is trying SO HARD to portray her as, but it could have sold better if the rest of the movie matched the energy and intensity that we get in these moments.  Now it doesn’t have to Moulin Rouge or overly garish, but there needed to be more to carry this film in between its modest set pieces.

It’s too bad most of the movie is them either playing with phones or moping about because moments like this are actually pretty cool.

It’s too bad most of the movie is them either playing with phones or moping about because moments like this are actually pretty cool.

Also, while the script is doing them ZERO favors, the actors are trying to bring some life to the material with each of the four main girls struggling to mine something out the material handed to them.  There is one more thing that I appreciate them for TRYING to do, but I don’t think works all that well.  The movie’s insistence that Jem is an inspiration to others feels unearned, but the IDEA that she can inspire others in a similar fashion to the It Gets Better program could have worked in a better movie.  Throughout the movie, there are YouTube clips of people saying how inspired they are of Jem which feels kind of cheap (GIVE US KUDOS FOR HAVING OTHER PEOPLE SAY HOW INSPIRATIONAL THIS IS!!!) but I’ll give them a bit of slack here in that it does show how social media can be a sincere force for good.

“My name’s Jem, and I’m gonna play a song that make the whole sing in peace and harmony.  It took me all day to write it.”

“My name’s Jem, and I’m gonna play a song that make the whole sing in peace and harmony.  It took me all day to write it.”

Jem and the Holograms as a franchise isn’t THAT hard to improve upon.  Hell, I can’t even watch the original series for how corny and eighties it is.  Being from dubious source material thought does not gran this movie a free pass, and this movie fails to even match what the original series was able to accomplish.  Look at what IDW and Kelly Thompson have been able to do with the comic book series which is on its eighth issue as of the release of the movie.  They are producing amazing content with these characters every month and while I grant that a comic doesn’t have the kind of restrictions that a movie following a three act structure would have, at least the comic book had a vision for these characters.  There’s a creative drive in that series to make it the best damn book it can be and  manages to honor the source material while still carving its own path.  THAT is how you adapt dubious source material into something special.  This movie?  This movie is junk.  I cannot think of a single reason for this to exist, especially considering how little it’s been pushed.  How is a movie as underfunded as this one supposed to reinvigorate the franchise?  Did they even bother to make toys for it?  Whatever you do, don’t see this movie.  It’s a boring slog of low effort crap if you aren’t a fan and a heartbreaking slap in the face if you are one.  Oh well.  The My Little Pony movie is just 2 years away, right?

Oh, and the post credit stinger is a whole other level of bullshit.  To make a movie his embarrassed by its source material and then promising a REAL Jem and the Holograms movie in the last moments of it is just shameless.  There’s no reason this movie should ever get a sequel, and if it did I’m certain it would be just as cheap and passionless as this one is.

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If you like this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

Jem and the Holograms (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD)

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