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Review: Jem and the Holograms

Jem and the Holograms
10.22.2015
2 10
 

PLOT: Jerrica Benton (Aubrey Peeples) is a young orphan who, along with her younger sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott), lives with her Aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald) and Bailey's two foster kids, Aja (Hayley Kiyoko) and Shana (Aurora Perrineau). When the family home winds-up in danger of foreclosure, Jerrica adopts an alter-ego named Jem, who promptly becomes a viral sensation when footage of her singing in costume is leaked to YouTube. Signed to a lucrative contract by an unscrupulous record exec (Juliette Lewis), Jerrica and her sisters become instant pop icons – but can she resit the temptations of fame and stay true to herself?

REVIEW: Anyone who grew-up watching the famous eighties cartoon series Jem is bound to be sorely disappointed by this incredibly lackluster big screen version. Basically an in-name-only adaptation, all the action, adventure and fun of the original show has been dropped. There's absolutely no mention of rival bands “The Misfits” or “The Stingers” and the closest thing to conflict here is Juliette Lewis' wanting to make Jem a solo star, forcing Jen (natch) to have to figure out what's really important – fame or family. Awww.

You really have to question the wisdom  of Hasbro and Universal in them opting to give Jem the micro-budget Jason Blum treatment. Certainly the property had the potential and name-recognition to become a really fun, girl-driven adventure franchise. After all, it worked for TRANSFORMERS and G.I JOE. Instead, creator Christy Marx has been given no creative input, and director Jon M. Chu, who directed a bonafide (and modestly successful) tent-pole actioner with G.I JOE: RETALIATION has made a quickie rags-to-riches pop tale that's so cheap a good chunk of the movie consists of YouTube clips and all the establishing shots are done via Google Earth. As far as movies go, JEM & THE HOLOGRAMS barely qualifies.

Shot on a reported $5 million budget (which seems high considering the finished product), this is probably good business for Universal, but considering the dearth of female-driven franchises out there, couldn't they have at least tried to make this fun or at least a little engaging? As it is I doubt even the most undemanding tween audiences will find much to love with Chu's film, and I wouldn't expect JEM to sell many toys or Halloween costumes.

The casting itself isn't half bad. While unseasoned, star Aubrey Peeples has a nice voice and seems comfortable as the young heroine. It's too bad she's given virtually nothing to do except belt out a few overproduced pop tunes (which totally contradict the stated premise – which is that Jem's musical authenticity is her hook). Her band-mates come off very badly in the musical sequences, with it looking like they're not even miming playing their instruments. While it's likely that poor choreography and shooting by Chu, along with some clumsy editing, is the real culprit, they come-off very poorly in a film that's supposed to be about music.

Most of the budget likely went into CGI for Jem's cute robot Synergy, which was built by her late father and takes her on a tour of L.A in order to piece together a mystery involving her father – which has absolutely no payoff whatsoever. Ryan Guzman, who looks about a decade-older than the girlish Peeples, is on-board as defacto love-interest Rio, with his job basically being to drive the girls around and occasionally pitch-in with some falsetto hooks when they periodically break-out into song.

The only one here who seems to be having any fun is Juliette Lewis, who camps it up as the head of the record company, Starlight (a familiar name to fans of the show), which signed the girls. She also happens to be Rio's mom, and in a rather ill-conceived plot twist, is shown to be utterly incapable of running her late husband's record company, which he intended for Rio all along. Umm, isn't this supposed to be empowering?

It's really a shame to see what Hollywood has done to JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS, as this could have easily been turned into a really fun, music-driven action franchise. Instead, it's a super-disposable tween music drama that seems primed to quickly cash-in and cash-out at the box office before winding up where it really belongs – streaming online. It's a real shame Universal has taken this route. Blumhouse helped Hasbro make a profitable film with OUIJA, but no one can claim they made a good one, and the same is ultimately true of JEM. A big-screen Jem might not necessarily have been great, but it would have been nice to at least think all-involved were trying. The show's (considerable) fan-base deserved better.  

Source: JoBlo.com

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