DIRECTED BY: Jamie Bradshaw, Aleksandr Dulerayn
FEATURING: Ed Stoppard, Leelee Sobieski, Jeffrey Tambor, Max von Sydow
PLOT: A Russian advertising executive develops the ability to see people’s brand loyalty, which materializes before his eyes as waving blobs on stalks attched to their necks, then decides he must come up with a plan to destroy all advertising.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Some movies are so bad they’re weird; other movies intend to be weird, but just end up being bad. Branded is in the latter category.
COMMENTS: Branded stars Ed Stoppard as Misha, a native-born Russian marketing prodigy with a flawless British accent. He explains “my father was a British communist who immigrated here,” which actually does very little to explain why there’s not even a hint of a Slavic cadence to his speech. The real reason must be that the casting director was insistent on hiring an actor who couldn’t do a convincing Russian accent and the filmmakers decided that no one would care, so long as they justified it with a throwaway line of dialogue. In the grand scheme of Branded‘s many screenwriting sins, this one is small, but it exemplifies the sloppiness of the entire project. Got a plot hole? Just slap a patch on it and send it out, no one in the audience will be the wiser. Ironically, Branded is a protest about advertisers selling us shoddy merchandise that we don’t need, but the construction here is so flimsy, the “deep message” so eye-rollingly obvious and over-sold, that we want to return the movie for a full refund. It is divided into two equally bad but incompatible halves. The first concerns Stoddard meeting and falling for his boss’ niece (Leelee Sobieski), who is producing a weight-loss reality television show without realizing it’s secretly a complicated plot by a fast food magnate (Max von Sydow, whose scenes were all shot separately from the rest of the cast) to make fat sexy. (The show’s logo is made out of Latin letters rather than Cyrillic ones–oh, never mind). The boss, Jeffery Tambor, wants to keep Stoppard away from Sobieski, to the point where he’s willing to wreck his protégé’s life—but why? Also, why is there a (dropped) subplot about Tambor blackmailing Stoppard into spying for the U.S. government? Come to think of it, why is Tambor even in the movie? He disappears for the second half, after Stoppard hides out in the countryside for six years until he has a dream that tells him to sacrifice a red cow (I’m not kidding). When he returns to Moscow, Sydow’s plans to make obesity sexy have borne fruit (we hear the world’s least rhythmic rapper sing a hit with the lyrics “If you get more fat/I would like it like that”), except for female lead Sobieski, who didn’t follow the flab fad. Sobieski’s persistent skinniness results, not from her independent spirit which sees through advertising’s lies, but because the movie knows we in the audience don’t actually buy the premise that blubber can be sold as a fashion accessory. Back in society, Stoppard starts seeing tumorlike CGI blobs waving on stalks attached to the rest of the cast. This ability introduces an awkward element to his courtship with Sobieski: when he insists “I really do see creatures on you” she slaps him, like she thinks he’s pretending to be schizophrenic just to get out of the relationship. From there, the movie just gets stupider. The “brand monsters” that flow out of consumers look cheap and ugly: “The Burger” looks like a half-melted Ronald McDonald waving in a stiff breeze. Since brand spirits arguably should look plastic and fake, this slapped-together, sub-SyFy Channel quality look could be intentional; but given the thorough incompetence of the rest of the production we have to conclude the shoddy CGI is just another mistake. Overall, Branded is a movie with a couple of good ideas which are sunk by lazy screenwriting, mediocre performances, and humorless preaching. If you want a clever movie about powerful forces manipulating the gullible masses, watch Wag the Dog; if you crave an incisive satire about advertising, try How to Get Ahead in Advertising. If you want to see CGI monsters battling, maybe Pacific Rim? If you want to hear lines like “a castrated lamb is happy because it doesn’t know what it’s lost” delivered with complete sincerity while shapeless blobs fly around the Moscow sky, then Branded is your ticket.
While Branded is nowhere in the neighborhood of a good movie, it avoids a “beware” rating from this site because it’s inoffensive, and it has one saving grace: it’s pretentious. As far as awful movies go, I would rather see an ambitious failure that fumbles while trying to discuss big ideas than another retread of improbable firefights, romcom misunderstandings, or Adam Sandler making fart jokes in a silly voice.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Branded is film school pretentious and stupidly inept at the same time, and while the flick certainly has enough visual weirdness to fill a provocative trailer — oh, the insidious nature of advertising! — it’s destined to become a cult classic in the realm of ‘WTF did I just watch?'”–Scott Weinberg, Twitch (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by “john greeson.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)