'Jem and the Holograms': Film Review

Jem and the Holograms Still - H 2015
Justina Mintz

Jem and the Holograms Still - H 2015

Fans of the original series will be outraged, while newcomers will be mystified.

Director Jon M. Chu helms this big-screen adaptation of the popular '80s-era Hasbro animated series.

When the trailer for Jon M. Chu's big-screen reinvention of the popular 1980s Hasbro animated show Jem and the Holograms was first unveiled, deeply upset fans of the original took to the Internet. Among those voicing their displeasure at the obvious liberties taken with the property was no less an authority than William Shatner, who tweeted, "I watched the Jem trailer. No star earrings? Where are the Misfits????"

Shatner and the show's devoted fans would be well advised to steer clear of the final product. Not being part of the generation that watched the show, I can't vouch for its merits. But it's safe to say that it must be miles ahead of this wan, bloated screen version which forgoes the original's sci-fi and thriller aspects. Reduced to a teen girl empowerment vehicle that trots out every show business cliche about sacrificing your values for stardom, the film is a non-starter that is unlikely to attract the intended target audience.  

Read More 'Spectre': Film Review

Aubrey Peeples (ABC's Nashville) plays the lead role of Jerrica, a sensitive teen who lives with her widowed mother (Molly Ringwald), younger sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott) and foster sisters Aja (Hayley Kyoko) and Shana (Aurora Perrineau) in a nondescript California town. When Jerrica sings a soulful self-penned ballad in front of her cell phone camera — she claims to hate being filmed, but rarely misses the opportunity — Kimber surreptitiously uploads the performance to YouTube. Naturally, it barely takes a day for the video to go viral, attracting the attention of Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis, enjoyably chewing the scenery), the rapacious CEO of Starlight Music, whose skintight spandex pants and haughty manner immediately establishes her as no good.

Showing up at Jerrica's home with underling in tow, Erica tells her and her sisters to "forget all that dismal mediocrity you grew up in." She transports them to Los Angeles, puts them up in the company's lavish mansion, and assigns their care to her hunky son Rio (Ryan Guzman, The Boy Next Door), who assigns them a curfew that they immediately break.

Jerrica, now known by her stage name Jem, has brought with her a small mechanical device created by her beloved dead father. Through plot machinations too tiresome to relate, it becomes an adorable robot named "Synergy" whose role in the story is mainly to make childlike noises.

Read More 'The Witch' Star Signs With CAA

To prevent her family from being dispossessed from their home, Jerrica reluctantly signs Erica's proffered solo artist contract, which just as well could have been delivered by the devil, and drops her sisters from the band. But in just an instant — well, it seems like eons — she sees the light and with the help of Rio manages to right her wrongs and, yes, become a big music star without having to compromise.

Geared to today's youth who don't believe they exist unless they express their most banal feelings in front of a camera, the film features endless snippets of tweens and teens tearfully testifying about how much Jem and the Holograms mean to them. The several concert sequences are equally histrionic, although the generic pop music performed all too realistically reflects the manufactured quality of much of what's on the charts these days. Director Chu clearly knows something about this, having directed a couple of the Step Up films and not one but two Justin Bieber documentary features.

The film features cameo appearances by Dwayne Johnson, Chris Pratt and Jimmy Fallon, all professing to adore Jem. (Note to Fallon: Johnny Carson was cool because he didn't gush about everything, and he didn't take easy money to appear in bad movies.)

In one scene Jerrica — or Jem, whatever — and her sisters spontaneously break into song in the middle of the night underneath the Santa Monica Pier (don't ask). "Shut up, you stupid kids, I'm trying to sleep," shouts an angry homeless woman. It's a sentiment that will undoubtedly be shared by any adults forced to chaperone their kids to this desperately cynical exercise.

Production: Universal Pictures, Allspark Pictures, Blumhouse, Chu Studios, SB Projects
Cast: Aubrey Peeples, Stefanie Scott, Aurora Perrineau, Hayley Kiyoko, Ryan Guzman, Molly Ringwald, Juliette Lewis
Director: Jon M. Chu
Screenwriter: Ryan Landels
Producers: Jason Blum, Jon M. Chu, Scooter Braun, Brian Goldner, Stephen Davis, Bennett Schneir
Executive producers: Jeanette Volturno-Brill, Couper Samuelson
Director of photography: Alice Brooks
Production designer: Kevin Bird
Editors: Jillian Moul, Michael Trent
Costume designer: Soyon An
Composer: Nathan Lanier
Casting: Terri Taylor

Rated PG, 118 min.