by David Cornelius
If you’re a girl of a certain age, then you know that Bratz dolls are, like, soooo awesome. And if you’re the parent of a girl of certain age, you know that Bratz dolls, are, like, soooo evil.Indeed, I’ve never met a parent who actually likes the Bratz toy lines. Some parents ban them from the house entirely; others reluctantly give in, disapproving all the while. As a toy line aimed at impressionable young girls, they’re highly questionable: dressed up in skeevy clothing and skanky makeup that flaunts the lavish, me-first lifestyle of functionally retarded celebutantes, they’re essentially the next step down from Barbie’s “math is hard” philosophy. Sure, toy company MGA Entertainment tries to hype up the “friendship is good” and “diversity is nice” angles of their product line, but then they throw something like “Bratz Babyz” at us, in which toddlers are dressed up like tranny prostitutes.
Following a series of cartoons and direct-to-video movies (which range in quality from “mildly tolerable” to “sheesh, whatever” to “my eyes!!! my eyes!!!”), MGA now brings the toy line to the multiplex, with “Bratz,” a live-action teen comedy that manages to capture every last offensive, ugly detail about the Bratz toy line while simultaneously delivering such an absolute weirdness resulting from so many things going wrong all at once.
There are four main Bratz dolls, identifiable only as the White One, the Black One, the Asian One, and the Hispanic One. For the movie, we learn their character names, but beyond that, they remain the White One (Skyler Shaye), the Black One (Logan Browning), the Asian One (Janel Parrish), and the Hispanic One (Nathalia Ramos). As much as it is to be admired that the filmmakers try to preach colorblindness by giving us a closely knit group of friends from the Benetton school of diversity, consider this: the Asian One loves science and math, the Hispanic One has a giant family, the Black One is a great dancer, and the White One is a klutzy dumb blonde. So much for progress.
Oh, and in one scene, the Hispanic One and her grandma - played by an insufferably campy Lanie Kazan - merrily sing “La Cucaracha.” Earlier, within that same house, we see a mariachi band hanging out.
The movie opens as these four “BFFs” enter their freshman year of high school, determined to be the hottest gals on campus. They all have dreams of making it big in their respective clubs (cheerleading, soccer, choir), and they tolerate the Asian One’s desire to study. The theme of the entire movie - heck, the entire franchise - is spelled out in one dreadful piece of dialogue: “Own the IQ, girl, but please don’t lose your passion for fashion!” In other words, I guess being smart is OK if you can’t help it, but seriously, you should concentrate on your looks first. To keep the Asian One from appearing too smart, the screenplay gives her a second, of-equal-value interest: fashion design. Sigh.
By the way, there are no classes at this high school, only clubs. Who needs to learn all that pesky history stuff when you could be auditioning for cheerleading instead?
It seems the school is under the stern rule of the Bitchy One (Chelsea Staub), student body president and daughter of sniveling principal Jon “Baby Geniuses 2 is no longer the low point in my career” Voight. The Bitchy One enjoys a rich, spoiled lifestyle - her purse-sized dog is named Paris - and maintains complete control over assignments into all the school’s cliques. Proving itself to be a dumbed-down retread of “Mean Girls” (which, let’s admit it, was a pretty bad movie in the first place), the movie then gives us a brief overview of said cliques, a scene which quickly slides into broad parody. (Mimes belong in the “loners” clique. Har!)
The Bitchy One manages to separate the Bratz, and as time goes by, their friendship grows apart. Fast forward a couple years. The girls are juniors, and the Bitchy One is still student body president. The girls land detention after starting a food fight, and it’s there they realize they need to rescue their relationship. They reteam, vowing to do away with cliques and make everyone hang out with everyone. In this movie, that means forcing the soccer players to like wearing high heels, and getting the science geeks to stop wearing glasses, because glasses mean you’re ugly. Remember: if you’re not dressed like a tramp, you’re not a good person on the inside. And if you don’t hang out with a friend every single waking minute of the day, you are not really a friend and therefore deemed ineligible for any future friendship.
(That is an actual plotline. The Black One is kicked off the cheerleading squad because she spends a day at the mall with people who are not cheerleaders, and the Asian One is banned from science class for having friends who aren’t into science. I’m sure it was intended as over-the-top parody of high school culture, but it’s actually played out with a strangely cold earnestness, a key plot point that seems to warn tweeners: this is how it’s really going to be when you go to high school.)
The rest of the movie involves shopping, the Bitchy One’s birthday party (allowing for a marketing tie-in with the MTV series “My Super Sweet 16”), more shopping, and a talent show. There’s a love interest for the Hispanic One in the form of a football player-turned-awesome DJ who’s also deaf (never did I expect I would be reminded of “It’s All Gone Pete Tong” while watching “Bratz”), and a love interest for the White One in the form of the Bitchy One’s boyfriend. Oh, and the White One’s mom is a caterer.
Did I forget to mention that? That’s OK. So did the movie. Midway through, we get a scene where we suddenly learn the White One’s complete backstory, and it’s vital to the rest of the movie, even though it all comes out of nowhere. Many, many story ideas and character points are handled this way. This script plays out like you’re hearing someone tell you a joke, only they keep forgetting to mention that, oh, wait, hold it, it was a grasshopper that went into the bar.
This haphazard storytelling style reaches its most head-shakingly, mind-numbingly bizarre point with the filmmakers’ decision to attempt a sort of post-modern subversive humor throughout, but only in seemingly random spots. The girls attend Carry Nation High School; the talent show prize is the “Golden Hatchet;” Principal Jon Voight is seen reading “How to Run a Prison;” signs posted around the school, in addition to the usual “No Loitering,” etc., read “Obey,” “Submit,” “Win At All Costs.”
The idea, I’m guessing, is that screenwriter Susan Estelle Jansen (“The Lizzie McGuire Movie”) and director Sean McNamara (“The Cutting Edge 2: Going for the Gold,” “3 Ninjas: High Noon on Mega Mountain”) - both also longtime vets of various Disney Channel sitcoms - thought that if they peppered their movie with these snippets of tongue-in-cheek cynicism, they wouldn’t be viewed as cheap hucksters shilling for a crappy toy line. Why, they’re not using a horrible sitcom-esque flick to sell some dolls, they’re making clever statements about high school!
Except, well, not really. The oddball slyness attempted by the whole “Carry Nation” theme is woefully undercooked and thus takes a constant backseat to the movie’s trashier “good looks first” morality and its D-student-level comedy. (Pool party’s not funny until the Bitchy One falls in. Hilarity!) Add to this a few storylines - Jon Voight in one tiny scene is shown not as a bumbling clown but as a compassionate father; the deaf kid is struggling with his recent hearing loss; the White One’s mom’s money problems; the Black One’s parents’ problematic relationship - that enter so abruptly that they feel bussed in from another flick, then leave just as quickly, leaving so many ideas hanging limply. The combination is a royal mess of a movie, so utterly bizarre in every scene that you can’t quite turn away, as you’re eager to see what possible failure could come next.
“Bratz” is shrill and shallow to putrid extremes, with its disturbing moral lessons about fashion and shopping, its unbearable musical interludes (including a final show-stopping number that’s co-written, we’re told, by the deaf kid - and if that’s not an intentional joke, it should be), its unfunny punchlines (you see, she falls into the pool, and that’s comedy!), and, frankly, its overwhelming, inescapable horribleness. Even the very audience this movie hopes to attract will, if my daughter and the many other young girls in the preview crowd are to be believed, find most of this picture remarkably dull. (True story: aside from the overly loud musical numbers and pratfall gags, this movie left an entire roomful of target audience members squirming in total boredom. My little one, who loves to stay for “credit cookies,” demanded we leave right away and ignore the music video at the end. Awesome.)
And through it all, it easily remains one of the most blatantly offensive movies ever to be aimed at young audiences. Did I mention that the Hispanic One actually sings “La Cucaracha” while a mariachi band sits in her kitchen?WTF?
link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15752&reviewer=392
originally posted: 08/03/07 17:03:54