[Screen It]

"BRATZ"
(2007) (Nathalia Ramos, Janel Parrish) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Four girls must contend with the conceited student president and the various high school cliques she oversees that threaten to undermine the students' friendship.
PLOT:
It's the beginning of freshman year for lifelong friends Yasmin (NATHALIA RAMOS), Jade (JANEL PARRISH), Sasha (LOGAN BROWNING) and Cloe (SKYLER SHAYE) at Carry Nation High School. Little do they know, they're about to run afoul of Meredith Dimly (CHELSEA STAUB), the self-appointed leader of the student body and daughter to the principal (JON VOIGHT). Along with her minions Avery (ANNELIESE VAN DER POL) and Quinn (MALESE JOW), Meredith assigns incoming freshmen to whatever clique she deems is appropriate for them, and thus isn't happy when the four friends buck that unofficial rule.

Even so, the four girls end up doing their own thing, and two years later Sasha is on the cheerleading squad, Jade alternates between fashion design and hanging out with the school's brainiacs, Cloe plays on the soccer team, and Yasmin is still trying to get over her stage fright and thus follow her dream of becoming a singer.

Helping her do that is jock Dylan (IAN NELSON) who gave up piano playing due to going deaf, while the dreamy Cameron (STEPHEN LUNSFORD) takes a liking to Cloe. The latter, and just about everything else about the four girls doesn't sit well with Meredith. From that point on, and as she has her sweet sixteenth birthday party again before hosting the school's talent contest, the spoiled rich girl does everything in her power to undermine the quartet and ruin their friendship.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
I'll readily admit that sometimes one needs to be of a certain, targeted demographic to enjoy specific types of entertainment, be that music, TV or movie offerings. For instance, the Teletubbies usually don't play to the AARP crowd, while slasher flicks don't often sit well with the kindergarten set.

That said, I must disclose that when I sat down to watch "Bratz" as a 43-year-old male, I knew I was several decades out of the desired audience range, and that my chromosomal arrangement was lacking in enough X's (in other words, I'm not a preteen girl). Nevertheless, the same held true when I saw the female teen laden "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" and I still enjoyed that.

Which is something I can't say for this film that's based on the popular toys and subsequent, animated TV show that naturally accompanied them. Beyond that generally being a bad idea for the genesis of any movie, this is a piece of bubblegum pop that feels like it's been stuck under someone's desk too long: The necessary flavor is gone and it's a chore to chew on what's offered.

That's not to say, though, that there's anything particularly deep or troubling. In fact, it's quite the opposite in this offering that's the lite version of "Mean Girls" or "Heathers" for the younger female set. While it has its heart and mind in the right place -- multi-ethnic girls choosing friendship over school cliques -- the glossy, superficial and often inane way in which all of that and more is presented pretty much undermines anything of consequence, be that theme or even just plain entertainment value.

Of course, I guess I'm asking too much of characters based on toys and cartoon figures, but there's so much potential in a story about four girls who run smack dab into the social strata of high school life. Their immediate nemesis is the stereotypical blonde bombshell with the fake smile and concealed daggers who thinks she runs the place and thus takes it upon herself to assign incoming freshman to the cliques she thinks are most appropriate for them.

As portrayed by Chelsea Staub, the villainess is an amalgamation of all such previous characters who've existed in filmdom. All of which means she offers nary a surprise at any moment, ranging from her initial dominance to her anger over being questioned to her eventual comeuppance, all portrayed by the young actress in full, over-the-top prima donna-dom, but without enough originality or fun to make the character fun or interesting.

The same holds true for the main quartet of girls who are so bland and nondescript that it's a good thing they're of various ethnicities just to keep them from blending together into a big lump of indiscernible teen angst and moodiness. While younger viewers might like that the characters have their defining issue (one has stage fright, one's parents are divorced, one is poor with a hard-working single mom, and the other is a brainiac who's also into fashion and changes clothes once she leaves home), that doesn't mean the protagonists are remotely interesting or engaging.

Perhaps sensing that, director Sean McNamara -- who works from a screenplay adaptation by Susan Estelle Jansen -- repeatedly returns to the tried and true recourse of using a plethora of lively pop songs, wardrobe changes, and montages (including the requisite shopping sequence) as filler to pad out the film to feature length status.

About as imaginative as the filmmakers ever get is the inclusion of a few musical cues the younger set won't get. That includes a western theme when the girls ride into town -- um, walk onto the school grounds -- bucking the preset, clique culture. Then there's the use of "On The Beautiful Blue Danube" (perhaps best identified with "2001: A Space Odyssey" to those who don't know their classical music) during, of all things, a mass student food fight where spaghetti is the food weapon du jour.

Unfortunately, that's about as saucy as the otherwise incredibly bland and otherwise forgettable film ever manages to get. With a title such as "Bratz," one's likely to be expecting something with a little zest. Unfortunately, this offering is about as much fun as finding weeks-old, previously chewed bubble gum that should have remained firmly affixed to the underside of a desk, far out of both sight and mind. The film might play okay to its target audience, but to this middle-aged, XY mind, it rates as just a 3 out of 10.




Reviewed July 28, 2007 / Posted August 3, 2007


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