Matthew Lickona 1:14 p.m., May 24
Oddly enough, Roadside Attractions, the studio marketing Branded, a new thriller-cum-satire of humanity’s dependence on corporate logos, saw no need to fire off a promotional flare. Unscreened for the press, Branded dropped on several screens last Friday.
Literal-minded children, whiling away a summer’s eve gazing at the sky, are quick to call 17 stars strung together exactly what they are: a constellation. Looking up, Misha Galkin (Ed Stoppard) interprets a glittering assemblage to be the bovine goddess Berengaria, a cheerful talking cow. The laughing cud-chewer would feel equally at home gracing an individually-wrapped triangle of cheese as she does acting as the film’s narrator.
Molly Moo Cow materializes just prior to young Misha being zapped by a lightning bolt that. The jolt, at least according to a cheap foreshadowing device in the form of an eyewitness, is one that will forever alter the boy’s future as a marketing genius.
Shot in Russia, the film overflows with the type of heavy-handed symbolism one generally associates with the Soviet Union. For their writing-directing debut, the team of Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn bring many a great idea to the table, all of which do little more than rise to the surface in this otherwise synthetic send-up of consumerism.
Branded devotes 10 minutes of its running time arguing that Lenin was the first to come up with the concept of marketing. Who better than Max Von Sydow to play the small (but pivotal, as his agent assured him) role of a ruthless marketing guru bent on boosting food sales. (For the first time in ages a ruddy blush brightens the actor’s generally ashen pallor.) He is a firm believer that a well-hammered Rubenesque reminder that “fat is where it’s at” should be enough to tip the scales in his favor.
In order to thwart his marketing nemesis, Misha launches a full-out campaign to do away with corporate logos that mar the landscape. What might pass for social commentary quickly sinks under the weight of laugh-free satire. The majority of the chuckles are contained in the film’s trailer. The art department must have had a ball whipping up the following ersatz corporate logos.
The talented Leelee Sobieski tries hard at playing Stoppard's love interest, but an underwritten part quickly sentences her to permanent backseat status. Stoppard, whose cheekbones bear more than a passing resemblance to French mime, Jean-Louis Barrault, could have taken a cue from his lookalike and done away with some of the extraneous dialog.
The filmmaker's ambitions begin to logjam around the same time the CGI kicks in. Half-inflated Macy's parade balloons bearing corporate logos sprout from several of the characters necks and begin to follow them around. By the time the floating carcinoma appear, you're likely to be so lost in the jumble of ideas that it will take a road map to find the exit door.
Branded is currently playing at Regal Horton Plaza, Mira Mesa, Oceanside and San Marcos, and AMC Mission Valley. Click for Showtimes.
Reader Rating: Two Stars