Being a kid in the 1980s was kind of awesome. I grew up in a time of Saturday morning cartoons, big-hair bands and, to this day, “Magnum, P.I.” remains one of my favorite shows.
And then there was “Jem and the Holograms.” I adored that cartoon. It was glamour and glitter and female rock stars. It was ah-mazing. So, I was pretty excited when I heard rumors there was going to be a movie based on the Hasbro cartoon.
And, then I saw the trailer. And, I was devastated.
Instead of the super confident, super awesome female music executive who had a double identity as the lead singer of an all-girl rock band, the world was being given an angsty teen drama about a young woman who is discovered via a self-made video going viral. Worse yet, there were no Misfits seen anywhere. In other words, it’s “Jem and the Holograms” in name only.
I’ll admit that basing the film on a commodity that many women in their 30s, me included, remember fondly, puts pressure on the creative team to do something “truly outrageous. Everybody seems to have cracked under it. “Jem” is a truly, truly, truly out ... of this world bad movie.
It’s a bad movie for so, so many reasons. Jerrica Benton of the 1980s was the head of the Starlight Foundation. She was a music executive and ran a home for orphans. She was confident, strong and moonlighted as Jem. Either character was someone little girls could aspire to.
Jerrica/Jem of 2015 (played by “Nashville’s” Audrey Peeples) is young and shy. She doesn’t like the spotlight, and she’s fairly sullen in a house full of peppy women. She and her sister, Kimber (Stefanie Scott) live with their aunt, Bailey, (Molly Ringwald, of all people). To truly make a full house, Bailey fosters two more girls, Aja (Hayley Kiyoko) and Shana (Aurora Perrineau).
The girls are all musically talented, of course. Thanks to Bailey owning a clothing store of some kind, they have full access to wigs, clothes and colorful makeup. This makes the perfect props for making music videos, of course. While her sisters have fun doing just that, Jerrica looks like a deer caught in the headlights and avoids anything entertaining.
Until later, when she dons a pink wig and pink makeup to perform a video as Jem in the dark and quiet of her room. On camera. Granted, her solo performance reverberates through the entire house, so I’m not sure how that made sense. Kimber posts the video, and basically overnight, Jem is the hottest thing online.
Because it happens just like that. All the time.
The video is noticed by Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis — I’m guessing she was desperate) who insists on signing Jem. Jerrica makes sure to bring her sisters along, and ... honestly, the rest is a clichéd storyline not really worth going into.
Short version: Erica is evil. Jem must come into her own. Oh, and there’s a boy, Rio (Ryan Guzman). A couple of songs are thrown in, and Jem does her best Lady Gaga impersonation.
And within this teenage angst movie, we also have a sci-fi movie. I’m not even kidding. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve seen in a movie. In years. I can’t even begin to explain it. I’m guessing that the producers didn’t think they could leave Synergy out. Maybe fans wouldn’t recognize this dolled up nightmare without it. (NOTE: In the ’80s cartoon, Synergy was an artificial intelligence that helped Jerrica become Jem through the use of holograms. The bot doesn’t even remotely serve the same function here, leading them on an asinine, half-hearted “effort” at character development.)
In the film, Synergy is a cute, little robot that looks a lot like Eve from the Pixar film “Wall-E.” The resemblance is honestly pretty striking, a little too close, I would think, for copyright standards. The robot leads them on a treasure quest (see above) across Los Angeles, via holographic coordinates and more.
It’s random, and it doesn’t fit. Then there are weird interludes filled with YouTube videos. Seriously, Jem and Erica are arguing, and the film keeps cutting to videos of guys drumming. I’m guessing scenes like this are meant to build tension or punctuate a narrative/point/theme, but honestly, it’s just out-of-place. Not to mention, your film would have to actually make a point or tell a coherent story to do either one. Somebody must have massively overestimated their abilities.
When you allow these genres and ideas to mate, they create an ugly, ugly baby.
And that’s one of the biggest problems for “Jem and the Holograms.” The creative team tried so dang hard to add in Jem nostalgia. They throw in catchphrases. They sporadically use the 1980s Jem logo. There are YouTube videos thrown in that feature fans saying what Jem means to them, and the kids are wearing costumes reminiscent of classic Jem rather than the outfits put together by Mad Max’s stylist that Peeples and the 2015 crew wear.
“Jem and the Holograms” isn’t a good film — even if it quit pretending it was based on the 1980s cartoon of the same name. The names are the same, but that’s about it. I’m still amazed that a cartoon that is more than 30 years old could be more empowering and progressive than a $5 million feature released today.
What’s even more sad is that the film actually sets up a sequel. There’s a post-credits scene that features the Misfits. That’s not really a spoiler, considering most of America has ignored this film, and I imagine you will, too.
Do yourselves a favor. If a friend asks you to go see this movie, smack them and walk away.