The Transformers did it — they successfully made the leap from the toy store to the big screen. But unlike those dazzling, shape-shifting robots, the “Bratz” are actually less than meets the eye.
Yes, the four young women who play the living dolls are pretty and perky and they have enough energy to light up a decent-sized suburb. Girls — a very specific niche of girls ages 8-10 — will probably want to be them, even though the characters never resemble fully realized human beings.
And in these tabloidy times, they are much better role models than Britney/Lindsay/Paris/Nicole. While the girls are obsessed with fashion, they don’t dress like hoochie mamas like the Bratz dolls themselves. They go to class and they fight to stick by each other when high school cliques threaten to tear them apart, rendering them BFFs (best friends forever!) no more. They don’t even plagiarize essays off the Internet or sneak Kahlua from their parents’ liquor cabinets!
But wow, is this movie mind-numblingly vapid and shrill. In the hands of director Sean McNamara, who also did the painfully earnest Hilary Duff vehicle “Raise Your Voice,” it isn’t even a movie so much as an extended commercial for MTV and Skechers shoes and the L.A. outdoor shopping center The Grove, sort of the Las Vegas of malls.
That’s where Sasha (Logan Browning), Jade (Janel Parrish), Yasmin (Nathalia Ramos) and Cloe (Skyler Shaye) go for retail therapy when the pressure to fit in starts to get them down.
At first they’re super-psyched for their first day as freshman at Carry Nation High School — so much so, they bound out of bed with a smile and video conference each other to coordinate what they’re going to wear. It’s “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Wardrobe.”
But it doesn’t take long for their interests to pull this multicultural coterie in different directions. Sasha, who’s black, becomes a cheerleader. Jade, who’s half-Asian, joins the science geeks. Cloe, who’s white, makes the soccer team. And half-Hispanic Yasmin ... just wanders. She has vague aspirations as a singer, she might want to join the journalism club. Basically there’s no place to put her in the script from Susan Estelle Jansen, based on a story by Adam de la Pena and David Eilenberg. But she does get some baffling scenes with Lainie Kazan, who plays a sort of Hispanic Jewish grandmother saddled with corny lines like, “Hola! Who’s your Bubbie?!”
Chelsea Staub is pretty hilarious in an intentionally over-the-top way, though, as Meredith, the platinum-blond queen bee who rules Carry Nation so completely, she has the various cliques organized into a color-coded lunchtime seating chart. (Jon Voight has a few embarrassing scenes as her dad, the school’s namby-pamby principal.)
By junior year, our four plucky heroines don’t even speak to each other. Even small talk in the girls’ bathroom about lip gloss is, like, totally awkward. So you know there’s only one thing that can bring these girls back together: a talent show! They’ll show Meredith who’s boss by singing and dancing their way to social freedom. Walking through the cafeteria in four-inch heels while carrying a tray full of food isn’t their only talent, you know.
But it takes way too long to get there. “Bratz” probably could have been a half-hour shorter. Having said that, you may want to stick around through the closing credits for the generically poppy music video, which is so incredibly cheesy (white piano, fake rain on a fake window pane) at least it’s good for a laugh.