Insipid is too kind an adjective to describe "Bratz," a bubblegum-pop monstrosity that has less personality than the inanimate dolls on which the movie is based. In tackling a teen comedy with the message that it's better to be yourself than just another sheep in the flock, director Sean McNamara (2004's "Raise Your Voice
") and screenwriter Susan Estelle Jansen (2003's "The Lizzie McGuire Movie
") hypocritically present a foursome of 16-year-old girls whose idea of standing out as individuals is to run around buying trendy clothes with Daddy's credit card, dancing and singing to the most derivative Top 40 songs one could imagine, and generally giving the term 'teenybopper' a worse stigma than it already suggests. There isn't a moment of truth or perception in its miserable 98 minutes; this film's view of high school is so skewed from reality and so insulting in its contempt that it's almost scary to think preteen girls (the target audience) would fall for it.
As newcoming freshmen at Carry Nation High School, Yasmin (Nathalia Ramos), Jade (Janel Parrish), Sasha (Logan Browning) and Cloe (Skyler Shaye) are BFFs whose bond is thought to be unbreakable. Within days, however, they have drifted apart to their own cliquesYasmin with the journalism students, Jade with the pocket-protector science "geeks," Sasha with the cheerleaders, and Cloe with her soccer teammates. Two years later, they are barely faces in a hall to one another. After a food fight lands them in detention, the quartet of gals rekindle their friendship, connect over their shared hatred for stuck-up queen bee Meredith (Chelsea Staub), andgasp!
dare to hang out together in front of their neatly-segregated groups of pals. When their bid to change the social order of the school starts working, Meredith sees her long-standing reign of popularity slipping away. Naturally, she's not about to stand for it.
"Bratz" was made for people who find the typical ABC "Afterschool Special" too subtle and complex. As serious issues rear their headsYasmin learns that cute guy Dylan (Ian Nelson) is deaf; Cloe's family is poor and unable to send her to college, despite her house looking like the model for a Better Homes and Garden
cover; Sasha's divorced parents don't get along; Jade's afraid to tell her parents she likes funky fashions (you read that right)the weepy, bombastic, over-orchestrated music score swells to such a height that it turns every faux-serious moment into a laugh riot. Curiously, the intentional comedy smashes to the pavement on literally every occasion.
Filled wall-to-wall with hoary caricatures, unctuous music montages and baffling character motivations, the film is bereft of cleverness but high on stupidity. A female-empowerment fantasy such as this should at least have likable protagonists, but the four so-called "Bratz" are so instantly annoying and vacant of thought that the only satisfying conclusion would have been for them to die in a fiery car crash. At least villainess Meredith is witchy and knows itwithout any redeeming qualities, newcomer Chelsea Staub gives her one-note role a self-deprecating wink the four leads are in desperate need of. When Meredith blackmails Yasmin as a way of forcing her out of the school's talent show competition, Yasmin quits her friends' group to spare them the threatened humiliation. Instead of plainly telling them the circumstances behind her actions, Yasmin dumbly keeps her mouth shut and the other three promptly stop being her friend. There is no excuse for this kind of idiotic scripting, and the strain for a third-act conflict to an already thinly-stretched plot is as transparent as the rest of these girls' piddling problems.
Throw in a 15-year-old brother of Yasmin's who creepily flirts with Meredith's 11-year-old sister, a stereotypical portrayal of a Spanish-American family complete with Mariachi band planted in the kitchen, and Jon Voight (2007's "Transformers
") saying good-bye to his last shred of dignity as the aptly-named Principal Dimly, and even the minor elements that make up "Bratz" are sorely misbegotten. The climax is the rotten cherry on top of a completely melted, five-days-old sundae, a laughably shallow and too-neat plea for individuality that is followed up by an on-stage dance number set to a disposable song of nonsense symbolic of everything wrong with today's streamlined pop and R&B music. If the world of American high school in 2007 is as shallow as this disaster's portrayal, there is officially no hope for the future of our country.