This movie is one of the most unintentionally ironic failures I’ve ever seen. The marketing made Branded look a Matrix wannabe. The posters were all neo-noir styled, the special effects looked interestingly designed and the trailers convinced me this would be a low budget little gem. Unfortunately this was all a complete fabrication by the distributor’s marketing department. It actually has more in common with They Live than anything else. All of it, however, is absolute shit.
This is the story of Misha (Ed Stoppard), who was struck by lightning as a child and was told he would have “an unusual life” afterward. As an adult he becomes a marketing executive in Russia, and the unknowing accomplice of a larger corporate plot to change the public’s image of overweight people from unattractive to the desired look. After a sleepwalking incident he becomes awakened to what normal people cannot see: parasitic creatures attached to the necks of everyone who gives in to the marketing of large companies. He hatches a plan to stop the corporations from feeding off the populace by beating them at their own game.
For starters, this movie is faux pretentious and takes forever to get to the damned point. It’s more than halfway into Branded when Misha “wakes up” to what’s going on around him, and by then it’s already too late because I was bored out of my skull and couldn’t give two craps about what was going on with the plot. The idea of the marketing of corporations suckling life from their customers is clever, but it’s pulled off in the most hackneyed way imaginable. The visual of a giant clown balloon hanging off someone’s neck comes off as silly and not threatening, especially when it disconnects from someone who has been overcome by the marketing and floats away to merge with a gigantic balloon attached to the roof of the corporate headquarters. It’s definitely not subtle and is ridiculously dumb.
Writers/directors Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn have no idea of how to craft a narrative. The movie just keeps throwing useless sub-plots and characters our way instead of pushing the story along. Does the sub-plot of Misha’s boss, played by a severely out of place Jeffrey Tambor, being pissed off that his employee is dating his daughter really do anything to advance the plot? No. It just delays it so we have more unconvincing romantic scenes with Leelee Sobieski. Their visual style, which is very reminiscent of The Wachowskis and John Carpenter, is decent. The problem is that they don’t know how to tell a story via their lackluster screenplay and images. The plot is a muddled mess that makes little sense and isn’t even remotely entertaining. I will give them points for trying to do something a little different than most of the stuff that comes from the Hollywood machine, but unfortunately they failed in every aspect of the production.
The leads, Ed Stoppard and Leelee Sobieski, are horrible. I remember the days when Leelee Sobieski was a critically lauded talent and hopes were high that she would become the next big young star in Hollywood. Unfortunately her choice in projects over the past decade have been horrid (The Glass House, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, The Wicker Man, Night Train), and this is yet another she can add to her list of bad decisions. She looks aloof for the entire film and not once did she appear to be trying to be convincing in her role (which was unnecessary to the story for the most part) in the slightest. She shares no chemistry with the leading man and their manufactured romance is laughably executed. Her character’s only reason for being is to produce a child that the hero will attempt to save later in the story.
Ed Stoppard, who I have never heard of before this film, is just as bad. He is bland and his performance, like Leelee’s, is unconvincing. He makes for a terrible hero and every moment he’s on screen I wished someone else had been cast in his place. I’m sure his ability to speak fluent Russian was a major factor in his being cast in the part and that’s about it.
The only person who seems to be enjoying themselves in any way is Max Von Sydow as a mysterious marketing guru who devises the plan to save the fast food companies by altering the public’s image about what is attractive or not. His character is an enigma, and he excels in the small part. However, his character’s ultimate fate is bafflingly stupid and adds to the long list of bad ideas written into the script.
Bad ideas… where to begin? A talking star constellation in the shape of a cow? Giant vengeful marketing dragons? Lightning bolts vaporizing people randomly? Sleepwalking crimson cow sacrifices? Vegetarianism saves humanity? I’m not sure what the hell the writers were smoking when they wrote this tripe, but I want none of it. The stupidity of these ideas, and more, is mind boggling. How exactly did the filmmakers raise the money for this fiasco with garbage like this in the script? I know that if I saw any of these ideas on the page I wouldn’t have invested a dime into the production. The preachiness of some of these ideas, especially the vegetarian angle, is insulting. It’s more like the filmmakers are trying to sell an agenda of their own instead of making a film.
This movie is a waste of time, talent and money. Nothing works, from the lame special effects to the failed attempts at storytelling. The acting is bad, the plot is dumb and it reeks of moldy cheese in every other aspect. I have to laugh though because I gave in to the marketing for this film. The flashy sights and sounds in the trailer gave me a false impression that this movie would be a cool little cyberpunk film complete with some action scenes and a hint of satire. Does that mean I have an invisible demon balloon hanging off my neck for falling for it? Most likely. The ironic part is that it’s been there for decades and growing in size due to all the crap I’ve seen just like this putrid excuse for a movie… and I could care less.