[Screen It]


(2015) (Aubrey Peeples, Stefanie Scott) (PG)

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Dramedy: A teenage singer-songwriter must contend with becoming an Internet sensation and then an increasingly famous pop star.
Following the death of their inventor father a decade ago, teenager Jerrica (AUBREY PEEPLES) and her younger sister, Kimber (STEFANIE SCOTT), have been living in middle California with their Aunt Bailey (MOLLY RINGWALD) and her two foster daughters, Shana (AURORA PERRINEAU) and Aja (HAYLEY KIYOKO). While they occasionally have their squabbles, they're otherwise a close-knit quartet of siblings who always make peace by singing in harmony.

When Jerrica learns that her aunt's struggling business means they'll likely lose their home in thirty days, the shy singer-songwriter makes a video of herself performing a solo version of one of her songs. With little self-confidence, she changes her mind and thinks she's deleted the video, but Kimber finds it, uploads it as being done by "Jem," and it becomes an overnight Internet sensation. It becomes so popular that Starlight Music CEO Erica Raymond (JULIETTE LEWIS) comes knocking, wanting to sign Jerrica to an exclusive deal.

The teen agrees, but only if her sisters can join her. Erica agrees and then has her driver, Zipper (NATHAN MOORE), deliver the teens -- and Jerrica's father's never finished small robot invention -- to Los Angeles where she proceeds to give them a visual makeover and prep them for three pop-up concerts. Tasked with being their chaperone is Erica's young adult son, Rio (RYAN GUZMAN), an aspiring singer himself who she wants to groom to run the business one day.

He and Jerrica clash, but in a flirty way, all while the singer's fame grows even more, so much so that Erica wants her to sign a contract to be a solo act and thus jettison her sisters. With her aunt's house on the line, Jerrica must decide what to do and figure out who she really is.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
In the old, pre-Internet days, it was so much harder to be discovered than in today's instant access world. If you wanted to be a screenwriter, you had to buy books that listed literary agents, type up your script on a manual typewriter, and send the finished script via the post office. Making a full-length movie at home was a near impossibility. And to become a recording artist, one had to write their own songs, land a gig playing them somewhere, and hope that a talent scout happened upon your little concert and was impressed enough to sign you.

Nowadays, all of the above can be done with a minimal amount of equipment, a connection to the Internet, and the use of at least one social media platform. In fact, recording a hit song and becoming a literal overnight sensation is quite possible, and that's exactly what happens in "Jem and the Holograms," a live action version of a TV cartoon from the mid to late 1980s. Of course, the Internet as we know it now didn't exist back then, and that Hasbro show didn't predict, at least to my limited knowledge, the technology of the future as did "Back to the Future Part II."

So that online discovery is something that screenwriter Ryan Landels has added to the original material, while director Jon M. Chu (who helmed the Justin Bieber documentary, " Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" along with a few of the "Step Up" movies and "G.I. Joe: Retaliation") has made sure to include lots of amateur videos (presumably real, but just as likely faked I guess) of regular kids trying to become the next big thing, all to appease the target audience of tween girls.

I never saw the original show and, truth be told, had never heard of it before this release, so any points of comparison and/or faithfulness to the source material should be left up to the experts and die-hard fans of the earlier material. I can say that as a standalone offering, the pic isn't good pretty much any way one looks at it (unless you fall into the desired demo in which case it's probably the cat's meow -- a term I'm pretty certain today's cool kids still use).

The problem for yours truly, among many, was that it simply isn't believable. And I'm not even referring to the R2D2 meets BB-8 style robot that suddenly and inexplicably becomes active during the story, complete with a "Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you're my only hope" type room projection. Yes, I've read that said character was in the animated show, but for the uninitiated, the inclusion of "Synergy" comes out of the blue left field, especially since the film doesn't otherwise have any sort of sci-fi or A.I. footing.

No, the big issue is with how the title character -- who's otherwise known as Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples) -- becomes a literal overnight sensation on the Internet after her younger sister (Stefanie Scott, far more charismatic than her co-star) uploads a video of the shy singer-songwriter doing a solo, acoustic version of one of her songs. Had said song been remarkable in any way (it's not, which also applies to every other song heard within the film's far-too-long, nearly two hour runtime), I could have bought into at least that part of the premise.

To make matters worse, its popularity draws the attention of a person (Juliette Lewis) who's supposedly a renowned and uber-successful hit maker, but mostly comes off as a condescending "rhymes with witch" character who's purposefully unbearable. Without hearing anything else, she inexplicably agrees to get the protagonist, her younger sister and their two foster sisters (Aurora Perrineau and Hayley Kiyoko) from their middle of nowhere home to L.A. where she sets out to polish them for three pop-up concerts.

Does the sisters' aunt -- who's been raising them since their dear young dad kicked the bucket while making said robot) -- bat an eye about them being whisked off to the city of angels without any chaperone? Nah, as she's Molly Ringwald for goodness sakes, so she obviously predicts they'll be in good hands with that exec's hunky young son (Ryan Guzman) who faux-contemptuously flirts with the lead.

Apparently not requiring any sort of rehearsal, the girls do their first gig, all while also trying to solve the mystery of the little robot's missing pieces that takes them on a high tech scavenger hunt. That doesn't amount to anything beyond Jem/Jerrica telling us in explicit detail about various nuggets of life wisdom. The young girls around me seemed to dig all of this, not really at first but certainly full bore by the time the last song is played. For me, it made me want to listen to some head-banger heavy metal just to knock the senseless plot, bland songs and cookie cutter girl characters from my noggin before any sort of permanent damage took hold.

Yes, I'm not remotely in the target demographic and there's something to be said about movies that empower girls and impart needed life lessons. But there's also something to be said about wrapping all of that inside a good movie, and "Jem and the Holograms" isn't anywhere close to that. It rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 21, 2015 / Posted October 23, 2015

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