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"THE BLING RING"
(2013) (Israel Broussard, Katie Chang) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A small group of celebrity-obsessed teenagers enjoy the spoils of robbing the homes of the rich and famous.
PLOT:
Marc (ISRAEL BROUSSARD) is a new high school student in Calabasas, California who draws condescending comments from various students. But not Rebecca (KATIE CHANG) who takes an instant liking to him, especially when she learns he knows as much or more about celebrity fashion than she does. When not doing home school with her mom, Laurie (LESLIE MANN), and two younger sisters, she's out partying with her fellow celebrity-obsessed high school friends Nicki (EMMA WATSON), Chloe (CLAIRE JULIEN) and Sam (TAISSA FARMIGA).

Her latest hobby, though, is entering unlocked homes and cars and stealing money so she and her friends can buy drugs and drinks at their favorite club. She soon has Marc joining her and they eventually decide to "go shopping" in the empty and unlocked homes of celebrities such as Paris Hilton. It's not long before Nicki, Chloe, and Sam are joining them and enjoying the spoils of their criminal behavior. But with surveillance cameras capturing them in the act, it's only a matter of time before the law comes looking for them.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Like most everyone else, I enjoy spotting and meeting famous people. But unlike fans who stalk Hollywood hot spots hoping to see a celebrity or two, or some of my fellow movie reviewers who've been sucked into the studio marketing system and are now addicted to interviewing those in the biz and seem to think they are their friends, I limit my geeking out to one night a year. And that's when I attend the Critics Choice Movie Awards (I'm a voting member of the organization that puts them on each year) and hobnob with the rich and famous and get my pic taken with some of them.

Beyond that, I don't regularly seek out any meetings with them, nor do I pay attention to those who are celebrities, especially the ones who obtain that status simply by the circular motion of being a celebrity. Unfortunately, a lot of kids are obsessed with all things related to such people, including all of the wealthy trappings that go along with such a lifestyle. And some of them have come to realize or learn that they too can have their quarter hour of Andy Warhol fame.

Such are the teenage characters in "The Bling Ring," writer/director Sofia Coppola's look at the kids -- also known as the Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch -- who, as their moniker would suggest, burglarized the homes of the rich and famous for two years starting in 2008. With more than 50 homes reportedly earning the group around $3 million in cash and other property, the kids enjoyed their newfound riches and notoriety -- at the expense of celebs such as Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan and others -- until John Q. Law finally caught up with the bunch.

Working from Nancy Jo Sales' Vanity Fair article "The Suspect Wore Louboutins," Coppola tells the tale of a small group of teens obsessed with fashion who segued from stealing from unlocked cars and homes of the non-famous to doing the same to well-known victims and enjoying the abundant spoils afforded them in the process.

There's ringleader Rebecca (Katie Chang) who quickly befriends Marc (Israel Broussard) the new kid at school who's battled self-loathing while skipping too many classes at his former learning establishment. Her friend Nicki (Emma Watson) is seemingly rebelling from her new-age religious and home-schooling mom (Leslie Mann) with her friend, Sam (Taissa Farmiga), while Chloe (Claire Julien) simply seems done with being a high school student and teen.

After Rebecca and Marc begin the celebrity break-in behavior on their own, the rest join them and Coppola repeatedly shows them going through the belongings of Hilton and others. All while pounding home the point with a driving, contemporary soundtrack of teen favorites, various slow-motion shots and other visuals to make the juvenile delinquents look cool and fashionable.

Not that she's endorsing their behavior. In fact, she's condemning that and their worship of celebrity, as well as the perks and bennies of being rich and famous. Case in point are the repeated robberies of Hilton's estate where she has so much stuff -- much it revolving around herself, be that press mentions, pillows with her likeness blasted onto the fabric, and even shoes bearing her name -- that she likely didn't notice she had been robbed the first, second, third and so on times it occurred.

Yet, despite all of the thematic material at play, and once I got bored with the directorial visual display, about the only thing that kept my interest were the following questions. Don't celebrities know to lock their doors? Don't they have motion detector alarm systems? Aren't there roaming guards or some sort of support staff around at all times, or are their homes really empty for long stretches of time when they're away? And wouldn't those kids have known to wear masks just in case surveillance cameras would be present and on?

The latter brings up another thematic element of those on the wrong end of the law starting to see themselves as celebrities of sorts themselves, especially when said crimes take place in Hollywood and stories of their exploits end up on the news as well as celeb TV shows like TMZ. While those are interesting points, Coppola doesn't really do much with that in terms of expanding upon or exploring such issues.

As a result, we simply see the same sequence repeated over and over again: The kids find out who's out of town along with their home address, break in and have fun going through their plentiful stuff, and then party-hearty afterwards until finding the next victim (or the same one in regards to Hilton) and running that same course all over again. A little of that goes a long way, and without much else being explored (we really don't end up knowing much about these kids), the scant 87 minute runtime (including credits) ends up feeling much longer than that.

For what's asked of them, the performances by the young cast are generally good, with most viewers likely to be interested in and/or shocked by Hermione Granger (Watson's famous alter ego) suddenly being all grown up and having gone over to the bad side. She's believable in the role, but like the rest of the characters, I would have found it interesting to delve deeper into what led to such behavior (beyond the obvious and stereotypical bit of having barely involved or ultra religious parents). Without that, much of "The Bling Ring" ends up feeling glitzy but too shallow, sort of like the celebrity world it's exploring. The film rates as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed June 12, 2013 / Posted June 21, 2013


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