Jem and the Holograms

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Why, you may rightly ask, did I subject myself to a movie that not only bombed at the box but that Director Chu (GI Joe: Retaliation) had to publicly eat crow over?  Well, to start, the cartoon does hold a small place in my nostalgic heart.  And, I admit, I was curious about what Chu and writer Landles, who together conceived The LXD, would do with it.

As it turns out it was a near complete misfire, with a lot of bits and pieces that had promise. But the overall effect was neither cartoonish, like the Scooby Doo films, nor full-fledged live action, like Transformers. It was more a watered-down after-school story with huge, cartoonish, logic leaps and little heart or believable plot.

What is a real shame is that the talent in this train wreck is actually rather good. Let’s start with the wonderful combo of Molly Ringwald and Juliette Lewis in the primary adult roles. Both as actors and as nods to the era of the original material, it was a great move on Chu’s part. Ringwald brings a centered sweetness and grounding to her scenes while Lewis has an edgy (if a bit exaggerated) tone in hers.

Aubrey Peeples (Nashville) imbues Jem with a naive sweetness, strong spine (eventually), and some serious chops. With a better script, this character could have really had some depth. The shoehorned love interest of Ryan Guzman (Heros: Reborn) didn’t do much to help and, in fact, confused matters as Jem’s age became rather blurry and the relationship uncomfortable to watch.

Jem’s sister-band, Stefanie Scott (A.N.T. Farm), Aurora Perrineau (Freaks of Nature), and Hayley Kiyoko (CSI: Cyber), have some talent as well, but they exist solely to get Jem to the next moment. Basically, they’re pretty background which is mostly wasted. It is worth noting that Scott has some particularly serious chops, enough that I suspect they had to dial her back for the performances or she’d have over-shadowed Peeples.

And the music created for this flick is actually rather good, in a bubblegum pop sort of way. They are believably hit songs, though the trajectory and workings of the business are utterly absurd. This is where the influence of the original material bit the creators… in trying to keep to the cartoon sensibility, they lost all sense of believability. This became especially true with the forced oddity of the truncated treasure hunt that is central to Jem’s awakening. By trying to stick to a more realistic tone, the choices and plot became utterly silly. Earth to Echo or Project Almanac were more believable than the choices, actions, and timeline of this film.

Chu did the right thing in attempting to reconceive the material for a new medium. However, the result never got quite far enough away from the original, nor close enough to it, to satisfy either need. What results is a weak script and an empty story with some nicely filmed scenes and desperate performances. I can’t really recommend this to anyone, but I can’t stop you from trying it out yourself.

 

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