I’m just … exhausted right now.
I’ve seen a lot of films this week, four up to this point on Wednesday, Oct. 21. I’ve seen “Truth,” “Room” and “Steve Jobs,” all of which have reviews coming in the future (“Truth” and “Room” were enthusiastically written by me, “Steve Jobs” by our other critic, Jesse). Rounding out my week of screenings came a throwback to the age of the ’80s cartoon “Jem and the Holograms.” I heard about “Jem and the Holograms” a while back with the announcement video that director Jon M. Chu, producer Jason Blum and executive producer Scooter Braun made. On the surface, “Jem and the Holograms” could be a cool live action concept if it was done right, but it would have to transcend the sour taste left by the last ’80s cartoon made into a live action film, “Scooby Doo.” Luckily, in an age of social media, CGI and instant stardom, “Jem and the Holograms” had the potential to be a cool update on an old tale, rocking with old and new alike.
Oh my god, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, after the trailer release, I didn’t expect “Jem and the Holograms” to be good, but dear god, where do I even start? The film blasts its way through the “dumb fun” sub-genre that it could’ve rested comfortably in, right into the realm of, “I might actually get kicked out of this movie theater because I’m laughing so loud.” The “plot” of the film revolves around Jerrica Benton (Aubrey Peeples), a shy teenager from the San Fernando Valley, who becomes an overnight sensation when her sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott) uploads a video of her singing online. Along with her two other sisters, Aja (Hayley Kiyoko) and Shana (Aurora Perrineau), they begin a journey of glitz, glam and fame, but it’s only a matter of time before the spotlight affects them all. Oh, and there’s some sort of magic robot helping them find something out about Jerrica and Kimber’s dad that we don’t care about.
Acting is bad. Case closed.
Okay, I can maybe elaborate. Peeples is “bleh,” I promise I tried to come up with a fancier, more professional word than “bleh,” but here we are. She simply doesn’t have the acting chops yet to command a role like Jerrica Benton/Jem, even though this version of Jem is nowhere near the same Jem as in the cartoons. Scott as Kimber is pretty excruciating as well, which comes as a bit of surprise given how well she commanded the lead role in “Insidious: Chapter 3” earlier in the summer. I would’ve assumed that taking on a supporting role in a less demanding film wouldn’t have been as difficult, but here we are. For some reason, Molly Ringwald and Juliette Lewis are in this movie too and while I could expect this from Ringwald, but Lewis? Not a chance, especially so soon after her great work in “August: Osage County” and “Wayward Pines.” Both of these actresses look completely out of place and so ready to get their paycheck and leave, while I can’t blame them for the money’s sake, they can do better.
The nicest thing I can say about “Jem and the Holograms” is that the colors are pretty in a few scenes, which isn’t to say the cinematography is good. I found the film to be a horrendous mixture of pretentious shaky cam work and mediocre music video level camera work, which was exhausting 10 minutes into the film, let alone throughout the entire 118 minute film. Directed by Chu, whose previous directorial work includes “Step Up 3D,” “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and both Justin Bieber documentaries, it should be no surprise that his standard of quality hasn’t changed here, completely ignoring every bit of nuance that a director should put forth in a film, whether or not it’s a film based on an ’80s cartoon or not. “Jem and the Holograms” is nothing more than an extended music video and not even a good music video.
Don’t even get me started on the screenplay. There are some scenes that I literally had to cover my eyes for, as if it were a horror film, because I was so mortified that these actors ever agreed to say or do any of these things that the script has them do, let alone on camera. The story is cringe-worthy, the dialogue is horrible, the smaller details are dumb as hell and the pace is rushed and yet, the film long overstays its almost two hour welcome.
Worst of all, “Jem and the Holograms” has a terrible message for young people. By the end, the moral of the story becomes: “F*ck real talent, f*ck intellect and f*ck hard work, put yourself on YouTube and hope for the best. Being famous is everything,” something that I think, if put into the minds of the younger crowd, to which this film is marketed, could be toxic, if only to reinforce the terrible, fame obsessed standard that Hollywood exists at. Sure, “Jem and the Holograms” attempts to be progressive by preaching that “everyone is special,” with awfully forced social media excerpts of people claiming that Jem “changed their life,” from her month of existence with three total songs. I’m not buying it, the audience wasn’t buying it and kids won’t buy it.
There is nothing good about “Jem and the Holograms,” there just isn’t. The film is an autotuned, out of touch, incredibly toxic, horribly written, sloppily directed, lazily acted piece of microbudget garbage that belongs in the trash. The only good time to be had during “Jem and the Holograms” is only to laugh at how completely ridiculous it is and even then, that in no way is worth paying for, let alone even driving to a theater for. Nothing about the film is even slightly uplifting, the music is horribly manufactured, the colors are pretty for a little while, only to become gaudy and headache inducing soon thereafter and it honestly just made me sad for Juliette Lewis. “Jem and the Holograms” is anything but a gem, it’s a Ring Pop given to you after it’s already been eaten.
Directed by: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Aubrey Peeples, Stefanie Scott, Hayley Kiyoko, Aurora Perrineau, Ryan Guzman, Molly Ringwald and Juliette Lewis.
Runtime: 118 minutes
Rating: PG for thematic material including reckless behavior, brief suggestive content and some language
Universal Pictures and Allspark Pictures present, a Blumhouse/Chu Studios production, in association with SB Projects, “Jem and the Holograms”