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Branded
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by Jay Seaver

"Most movies this simplistic at least have clarity; this just has weird FX."
1 stars

"Branded" is a movie so bizarre at points that it must be intended as metaphor or satire, except that nothing about this film ever gives the the impression that it's nearly that clever. It's a weird example of someone trying to be clever beyond their capabilities, but doesn't even have the charm necessary to be good camp.

Mikhail "Misha" Glakin (Ed Stoppard) is a marketing savant who was struck by lightning as a child in 1980s Russia, and now works for American Bob Gibbons (Jeffrey Tambor). Bob's niece Abby (Leelee Sobieski) is also in town, looking to produce a Russian version of reality program Extreme Cosmetic, eventually enlisting Misha as a partner and lover. What they don't know, though, is that this is part of a bigger plan by a mysterious marketing guru (Max von Sydow), though he doesn't count on Misha having a vision.

That Branded (also listed on IMDB as "The Mad Cow" and "Moscow 2017") is built up around an almost childishly simple theme that marketing/advertising is bad is one thing; that it doesn't build anything interesting around that is quite another. Weird, sure - Misha doesn't simply hear voices, but comes to have visions through a whole strange ritual, and then the visions themselves are downright peculiar bits of visual effects - but filmmakers Jamie Bradshaw & Aleksandr Dulerayn utterly fail to make them worth the audience's attention. It tries to assert that it's got stuff going on; there's lots of bridging/explanatory narration, after-the-fact discussion of Misha and Abby being in love that should maybe have been more obvious through their actions, and young Misha is told that being struck by lightning means he will have an interesting life, but it's a lot of making claims that don't have any weight based on what the audience sees on screen.

And when Misha does start having visions... Ooh, boy. If this movie has any success at the box office or on video at all, it will ironically do so on the basis of striking advertisements showing strange CGI monsters above Moscow, and while the effects to create them are a bit rough but still leave them looking interesting, they seem like they'd make a lot of sense if they were metaphorical or visualization techniques for Misha (or ways for us to access what he knows instinctively), every indication is that these brand avatar things are to be taken literally, which just doesn't work at all - it creates a disconnect between them and what Misha does, and makes their battles seem without consequence. It's neat effects that just muddle things.

The cast doesn't help or get much help - there is almost no chemistry at all between Stoppard (playing a Russian character who has a perfect English accent) and Sobieski, a huge problem considering how much of the movie is supposed to key off them being madly in love. Jeffrey Tambor is at his worst, playing broad enough to look mannered but not enough to be entertaining for putting in more effort than the rest of the cast and crew. Max von Sydow has one of those "show up briefly and be Max von Sydow" parts that put some spending money in his pocket and seem kind of tacky until you see Stoppard try and say the same lines.

Nobody comes out of this looking good, though - the movie's main message is pursued in nonsensical ways, it's got mixed messages in other areas, and nothing that's supposed to get its claws into the audience gets close. It's a thorough disaster, since stories with simplistic and obvious themes usually at least have the benefit of clarity, but this still manages to be a mess.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=24330&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/09/12 13:33:30
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USA
  07-Sep-2012 (R)
  DVD: 15-Jan-2013

UK
  N/A

Australia
  07-Sep-2012
  DVD: 15-Jan-2013




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