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'Jem and the Holograms' review: Adaptation of '80s cartoon doesn't shine

"Jem and the Holograms" stars, from left, Hayley

"Jem and the Holograms" stars, from left, Hayley Kiyoko, Aurora Perrineau, Aubrey Peeples and Stefanie Scott. Credit: Universal Pictures / Justina Mintz

Even before its release, the musical fantasy "Jem and the Holograms" has come under fire from fans of Hasbro's original 1980s-era cartoon series. Its heroine was Jerrica Benton, owner of Starlight Music, who rocked out in her own new-wave band disguised as Jem with the help of a computer called Synergy and a pair of image-projecting earrings. Jem's enemies were a mean "punk" band called The Misfits.

You may be wondering: This show had fans? Given that it was a travesty to begin with -- the "Power Rangers" of modern rock -- what kind of legitimacy could it possibly lose? Its defenders have raised one valid point: The film disempowers Jem (Aubrey Peeples) by recasting her as an average suburbanite instead of a career woman. She's basically another Hannah Montana, and in this version her earrings don't even work.

This much is true: Jem is now exceedingly irritating, a passive-aggressive wallflower who records herself singing but is oh-so-horrified when her sister Kimber (Stefanie Scott) posts it to the Internet. Before you can say OMG, Jem becomes a viral sensation whose retro makeup and Top 40 songwriting has touched America's heart. First to offer a contract is Starlight Music, run by the catty, conniving Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis). In return for fame and fortune, however, Jem must remain a mystery -- as Erica puts it, a "symbol."

This is the first sensible thing anyone says. Obviously pop music is a mix of artifice and authenticity, as anyone from Bob Dylan to Kanye West knows -- and surely today's media-savvy teens know it, too. Jem's agonizing battle between her true and false selves seems outdated and a tad disingenuous. Between fits of self-doubt, she canoodles with hunky intern Rio, played by Ryan Guzman, and receives wisdom from her Aunt Bailey (Molly Ringwald). Adding racial diversity are Aurora Perrineau and Hayley Kiyoko as Jem's foster sisters and bandmates.

As an homage to the old TV series, director Jon M. Chu ("Step Up 3-D") and writer Ryan Landels invent a chuckling little robot named 51N3RGY that follows the girls around like a puppy. It's a creature aimed to please 5-year-olds, and it proves the filmmakers' low regard for their viewers' intelligence. If anything, "Jem and the Holograms" is every bit as cheap, hollow and cynical as its original source.


Movies in which holograms played a role

The girls from the '80s toon "Jem and the Holograms" are rocking again in a new big-screen update. Holograms also played a role -- and showed up quite cleverly -- in these four films.

BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II (1989) -- Just when you thought it was safe to go back in a theater came this sequel to the 1985 smash, which took place in 2015 and used a giant projection hologram to advertise the fictional movie sequel "Jaws 19."

VANILLA SKY (2001) -- This Tom Cruise-Penélope Cruz thriller jazzed up the idea of using a hologram by having an image of musician John Coltrane pop up during a birthday party.

PAYCHECK (2003) -- Ben Affleck starred as an engineer who agrees to a deal with a billionaire that has him running for his life. Along the way, Affleck's character uses hologram technology to create a miniature woman (Krista Allen).

OCEAN'S TWELVE (2004) -- In this sequel to "Ocean's Eleven," Danny Ocean is out to steal the Fabergé Imperial Coronation Egg. Things get in a scramble when Eddie Izzard as master thief/tech wiz Roman Nagel creates a hologram version of said egg.


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