The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Jem and the Holograms

Everything about Jem and the Holograms seems specifically designed to be annoying. It possesses every cliché a tween-centered film could possibly contain, from the wacky trying-on-clothes montage to the scene where our heroine accidentally walks in on her shirtless potential love interest. Based on the 1980s cartoon series – and not very faithfully, I am told by those more knowledgeable on the subject - Jem also peddles a superficial message about how the true measure of your worth is how famous you are.

Aubrey Peeples plays Jerrica Benton, a small-town girl too embarrassed to share any of the songs she's written with other people. Her sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott) uploads one of those tunes to YouTube, where it becomes a viral sensation. It also attracts the notice of Starlight Records executive Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis), who signs Jerrica (under the stage name Jem) to a recording deal. A rock star boot camp follows, where Jerrica and her backup band, consisting of Kimber and their friends Aja (Hayley Kiyoko) and Shana (Aurora Perrineau), are trained in the art of performing, under the tutelage of Erica and her son Rio (Ryan Guzman). They record and leak a single, which also becomes a phenomenon. Then – and this is where it gets really weird – a small robot built by Jerrica's late father abruptly springs to life and begins projecting holograms that send her all over Los Angeles collecting clues to some sort of mystery.

From a dramatic standpoint, Jem and the Holograms is a bust. Its insistence on peddling a fantasy about the power of internet fame is naive at best, irresponsible at worst. The movie suggests that you don't really matter unless everyone is paying attention to you (although it pretends to be about the need to be yourself, no matter what). Plot points are staged with irritating clunkiness. For example, Erica dupes Jerrica into signing a solo contract. In the very next scene, the other girls find out they've been screwed and abandon her. In the very next scene after that, they spontaneously and without explanation come back in an act of forgiveness. There's no substance to the idea, just a hurried rush through it so the movie can return to the “fame is awesome” theme.

Jem also falters on logical issues. When a movie works, you don't ask yourself about things that don't make sense. When it doesn't, those questions become unavoidable. In this case, Kimber tells Jerrica that the YouTube account is private, so no one knows who posted the video. How, then, does Erica get their email address to offer a deal? Even bigger questions exist. Why did Jerrica's father go to all that trouble to leave clues for her hidden around the city, where she might never find them? Why not simply write a letter or record a video? And what about poor Kimber? She doesn't get such a grand message. Did their father not love her as much? How does she feel about the fact that he went to all this trouble for Jerrica while doing nothing for her?

Even if you think that's the nitpicking of an adult male film critic way outside Jem's target demographic, it's hard to ignore that the pieces here don't all fit together. The story of Jem's burgeoning music career doesn't gel with the robot stuff, which plays like a bad Earth to Echo sequel. There's also a distracting tendency by director Jon M. Chu (Justin Bieber: Never Say Never) to make the movie more “hip” by unnecessarily inserting internet elements. Locations are repeatedly established via shots of a Google Earth map. Oftentimes, right in the middle of allegedly important scenes, actual music-based viral videos are incongruously inserted. It ruins the flow of these moments, and the approach adds absolutely nothing. Face Time and Instagram are also clumsily used to advance plot points.

Jem and the Holograms was co-produced by Scooter Braun, who is Justin Bieber's manager. It's pretty clear that he and Chu were inspired to mesh the singer's internet-driven rise to fame with the already existing Jem property. That decision, more than anything, may be the fatal flaw. If they wanted to look at the impact of online popularity, an original script would have been the way to go. Instead, they're saddled with the stupid robot and the need to incorporate the more fantastical elements of the source material. The only truly entertaining thing in the whole picture is Juliette Lewis, who gleefully chews the scenery as the narcissistic Erica. She provides a spark of life missing from everything else.

Deeply misguided and not half as clever as it thinks it is, Jem and the Holograms is certain to disappoint existing fans and ensure that new ones are not made.

( out of four)

Jem and the Holograms is rated PG for thematic material including reckless behavior, brief suggestive content and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 58 minutes.

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