Review: Jem and the Holograms

Jem-and-the-Holograms-thumb-600x348 That this two-hour parade of bad lip-synching, product placements, awkward celebrity cameos and mediocre YouTube clips dares call itself a film is bad enough; that it wants to be Jem and the Holograms somehow makes it worse. There is nothing redeemable about this mess, which, if I’m being honest, might be the worst movie of 2015.

Jem and the Holograms chronicles the rise of Jerrica Benton (Aubrey Peeples) as she and her three sisters – Kimber (Stefanie Scott), Aja (Hayley Kiyoko) and Shana (Aurora Perrineau) – go from small-town nobodies to total rock stars overnight. Like, literally overnight. The four girls were raised by Aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald) who apparently taught them to sing and play musical instruments. We’re not really given a hard reason why, but that’s apparently a thing they do. They just sing in their house.

At some point, Jerrica decides to don a wig and wacky makeup and film herself singing a song she wrote, calling herself Jem in the footage. Kimber puts it online and in the span of about four hours Jem becomes a household name and everyone wants to know who she is. A record executive, Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis), decides to sign Jem based on her mediocre YouTube clip and the four ladies are off to Los Angeles shortly thereafter.

The following hour and a half is a muddled, convoluted mess. There are a ridiculous amount of subplots and I’m going to do my best to sort through them.

One of the subplots focuses on a little robot called “Synergy,” but stylized in the film as “51n3rg.y” for reasons that aren’t explained. If you recall the 1980s cartoon, Synergy is a hologram created by Jerrica’s father that creates lifelike holographic images. Jerrica used Synergy to project the Jem persona onto herself as a disguise. In this film, Synergy is a little robot who communicates via music and serves no real purpose beyond having the girls go on a wild goose chase around L.A. to find the missing pieces which contain messages left to Jerrica by her father. A solid amount of film time is given to piecing the robot back together, which results in what is supposed to be an emotional moment with a holographic dad at the end of the film, but it falls flat and doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense.

Another side plot deals with Rio Pacheco (Ryan Guzman), who is the “college intern” at the record company. He and Jerrica develop the feels for each other over the course of the story and they smooch at the end. The problem with this is that he’s in college and the girls are a non-descript high school age; at some point Aja mentions not wanting to “go back to juvie” so they’re clearly under 18 and he is somewhere in his 20’s, and that’s gross if he’s lusting after high schoolers. Also, Rio finds out that it’s really HIM who’s supposed to be in charge of the record company all along in a scene that comes out of literally nowhere – there is nothing to suggest that Erica pulled one over on him, there’s no buildup to it at all. So stupid.

And then we get to presumably what the main plot is supposed to be, which revolves around Jerrica and being sort of forced to go solo. Erica Raymond, at the start of the story, only wants to sign Jem, none of her sisters. No reason is given for this. Jerrica “drives a hard bargain” (how “uh I need my band too” is hard is not explained) to bring her sisters with her to L.A., and then midway through the film, Erica forces her to sign a solo recording contract. We are never told why Erica only wants Jerrica. She signs the solo contract to get the money to help Aunt Bailey not lose her house – yep, Aunt Bailey is in financial trouble, by the way, that’s just a thing they throw in there – and it pisses off the other three. So they leave.

At this point I was like, hey! Look! Some actual drama! Wow! And then literally five minutes later it’s resolved and they’re all back. This is how most of the issues are resolved – suddenly, and with no explanation given. The band, during their quest to put Synergy together, needed to get to the Open Air Club. Rio tells them it’s hard to book there. Three minutes later they’re playing a show there. This is not an exaggeration. Meanwhile, things that should have an easy solution are instead turned into ridiculous drawn-out sequences. The last pieces of Synergy are the earrings that Jerrica was given (which fortunately look like the ridiculous cartoon earrings, at least) by her dad. At the start of the film, Erica calls them tacky and puts them away in a safe for, uh, reasons. (What these reasons happen to be are not given.) Rather than waiting until the following morning and politely asking Erica for the earrings back, Jerrica and Rio steal her car, sneak into the building, set off a bunch of alarms and break into her safe. Because that’s reasonable.

As you can probably tell by now, the writing is horrible. Nothing really makes sense, and nothing is reminiscent of the original cartoon. I wish I understood why the folks in charge of this project would take an established franchise such as Jem and turn it into something that bears absolutely no resemblance to the original material. If you’re going for the nostalgia dollar, shouldn’t you try and make it as close to the source as possible? Guess not. The Misfits aren't even mentioned! Not ONCE! Their songs are better!! Where were they? (Hopefully appearing in a better film.)

I wish I could say something positive about any of the acting, but it’s all bad. Everyone is one-note. And most of them are the same note. All four girls in the band have basically the exact same personality; at the outset you think they might be a little different, but they’re not. Even Jerrica’s trademark shyness is barely there. I wish Juliette Lewis was better in this film, as one of the few well-established actresses in it, but she’s not – she’s painful to watch.

Also painful to watch was the lip-synching, which was edited so badly that you can clearly see Jerrica saying words that are not what you’re actually hearing. Oh, and none of the girls in the band were trained on how to hold their instruments, either. As a musician, it’s probably more noticeable for me, but the bass guitarist clearly had no idea what she was doing, and neither did the drummer. Speaking of the drums, for some reason they put timpani on the stage for the final concert scene – even though timpani are not featured in the song that plays.

Newsflash, Hollywood: I know that timpani drums look cool, but they are not equivalent to toms. They are orchestral drums and are usually pitched in a very specific way and do not sound even remotely the same as a standard tom-tom. Your movie looks stupid as hell if you put two timpani on a stage and instead we hear tom drums and hi-hats. Stop doing this.

But by far the worst thing about this film is the nonsensical cuts to YouTube clips throughout. I’m sure the decision was something stylistic and in reference to how Jem herself became a hit online, but it is so distracting and honestly jarring to watch. Literally, during Rio and Jerrica’s escape from the building after they get her earrings back, there are cuts to some guy flapping his hands together while another bangs on an overturned bucket. It sucks to look at. So many YouTube clips were used that half the film is in standard definition, I swear. I hope that at least the people featured were paid for the use of their clips, but I’m already anticipating the “I appeared in the Jem movie and I wasn’t told about it or paid for it” pieces following this film’s release.

Nothing about this film is good. The acting is bad. The story is bad. The cinematography is bad. The editing is bad. Everything is bad. Don’t see this film.

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JUST TO BE CLEAR: ZERO OUT OF FIVE!