Stop toying with us, Hollywood

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 August, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 August, 2007, 12:00am

Los Angeles

The only nice thing to be said about Bratz, a new movie based on a line of popular dolls, is that it looks good. There are floating white pool pillows covered in pink satin cushions, an edible art spread made of pastel-shaded fondant cupcakes, and four girls who routinely show up at their high school looking as if they've just stepped off the pages of Seventeen magazine.

And that's about it.

Bratz is one of those productions that makes you wonder how the studio process in Hollywood works, when something like this can be made while worthier projects are binned. It's also the latest - and hopefully the last - movie based on toys.

What's said to be a comedy has made US$6.6 million in the US, a figure that has been only marginally enhanced by the US$60,000 that it made overseas. US$60,000? Surely that didn't even cover the cost of the girls' lip gloss.

With Bratz released so soon after Transformers, there was speculation that this was going to turn into another trend: that films based on toys would be the next big thing. After all, say industry insiders, making films with a built-in fan base minimises risk. How many of the people who showed up to the opening weekend of Transformers didn't love playing with the toys?

But it takes more than simply having an abiding interest in the core concept. 'A fan base for a popular entity is never enough,' says Gitesh Pandya, editor of movie tracking website and the New York-based film correspondent for CNN International's World News Asia. 'It also has to be a good movie with strong marketing. Transformers could have been a big flop like director Michael Bay's previous film The Island, but it was a very fun film that had a terrific marketing campaign behind it.'

As Pandya says, Transformers cost US$145 million to make, but it has earned more than US$600 million worldwide, so studio executives can rest easy.

Yet the Bratz brand is successful: apart from the original dolls - Cloe, Sasha, Jade and Yasmin - who are also the main protagonists in the film, there are spinoff Bratz dolls, jewellery collections, video games, and a Bratz phone. The franchise is worth a fortune, so somebody assumed that a Bratz movie would make a lot of money.

But apart from poor box office takings, the critics had their knives out. On the Rotten Tomatoes website, the movie was called 'excruciatingly inane', 'ludicrous and almost perverse' and a 'hermetically sealed vacuum of stupidity'.

The plot, if you can call it that, centres on the four bubble-headed girls who are BFFs (best friends forever), but OMG (oh my god) high school cliques have driven them apart. They decide that instead of sticking with their little groups - the sport freaks, the math nuts, the journalism club - they'll try to unite the school, so the goths can be friendly with the nerds and the jocks can hang out with science geeks.

That might sound like a noble enough premise, but it's all squandered in the execution. Instead of attempting to become better people, Cloe, Sasha, Jade and Yasmin are walking paper cut-out dolls, all long tresses and pouty lips, giving us lines such as: 'I love the smell of retail in the morning!'

The actors follow to a tee every cliche, do lots of 'pinky swearing', and spend way too much time looking in the mirror. There's even an evil prom queen type who runs the school like her own fiefdom - and, of course, gets her comeuppance. What Jon Voight is doing in the film is anybody's guess.

Pandya says the studio behind Bratz could still make a profit on it. 'Given that [it] was a low-cost film, it probably could still turn a profit over time after video revenues are tabulated,' he says. And despite the film bombing at the box office, studios may well still produce movies based on toys if they think there's a big enough audience.

'As for Bratz, I think there was really no audience for it outside of young girls - and even they weren't all convinced that this one was worth the ticket price. On video, it should do much better though, because the target audience will certainly be interested in renting it.'