It’s hard to imagine a movie this year more sadistically boring and bland than “Jem and the Holograms.” This comes as somewhat of a surprise since director John M. Chu is a pro when it comes to making films that are visually dazzling and marketed toward teens. “Step Up 3” was a fun, beautifully edited, visual feast, while “GI Joe: Retaliation” was a decent follow up to a much maligned movie. So it’s disappointing and crushing to see Chu not even really seem to try. Everything about “Jem and the Holograms” is so vanilla and uninspiring that I never even care about anything happening on screen. I’m not one of the kids from the eighties that watched “Jem,” so I have no nostalgic connection to the animated series, but I can understand that anger toward such a horrible movie.
Fans of “Jem” finally get a movie adaptation, only for Universal to serve them up Hannah Montana based around trite commentary about being an internet celebrity. A young singing phenom who wears a wig whose famed alter ego is a pop singing sensation that only her fans know, while she tries to live her life as a normal person by day? It’s Hannah Montana, and it’s no wonder fans are so livid. And it’s not like Chu and the studios didn’t know what “Jem” was, or lacked the resources for an updated adaptation. During one scene, the titular band dress in eighties garb in the spirit of the Holograms. When main character Jerrica dresses as a character similar to eighties Jem, they playfully describe her as “Truly… Truly… Outrageous.” Chu and co. had enough knowledge of “Jem” to really hit it home with a unique take on the source material, and instead deliver a goofy movie about how being a celebrity lives and dies on the power of the internet.
Aubrey Peeples is miscast as Jerrica, the potentially powerful singer Jem, who has spent her life with her three sisters and her aunt trying to get by day by day. For some reason, her aunt (Molly Ringwald) insists on the sisters practicing C notes as an attempt to break up their fights and this has turned each of them in to powerful singers. Hoping to gain some internet attention (and possibly money) after she learns her aunt is about to lose her childhood home, Jerrica performs on video as her character Jem and gains instant stardom after sister Kimber posts it. Apparently in this world it only really takes a small twinge to become a hit as Jerrica is offered a record contract after her video becomes a viral sensation with over thirty thousand hits. There’s also a very listless mystery her long dead father left Jerrica to decode with his pet robot Synergy.
Even though Jerrica has to overcome her insecurities and come out of her shell, even when she does, Peeples is lifeless as the character, injecting no charisma. The supporting cast don’t really contribute much either, despite the inherent talents of folks like Hayley Kiyoko and Stefanie Scott (who was quite good in “Insidious Chapter 3”). Much of “Jem” is centered on the typical story of small town characters becoming big names and their lead singer losing sight of themselves. It’s all so hopelessly listless and tedious, no matter how much Chu tries to inject magic with forced fan testimonials, and the introduction of robot sidekick Synergy. “Jem” lays some genuinely interesting themes about being yourself, sticking with your family, and the importance of sisterly bonds on the table, but sadly accomplishes nothing with them. “Jem” seems ashamed of its source material from minute one and it reflects loud and clear on the final dreadful and unremarkable product.