Free-market champions could be excused for wanting to dismiss Branded, an all-out assault on capitalism’s need for marketing messages. Turns out the film, available now on Blu-ray and DVD, is so hopelessly assembled it will only inspire pity from conservatives.
Just how disastrous is this dystopian tale of marketing run amok? It needs a narrator to occasionally explain what in the world is going on, but even this unseen voice can’t explain the thin characters, ludicrous advertising campaigns and the silliest special effects since Howard the Duck waddled into movie theaters.
Branded opens in ’80s era Soviet Union, when a boy named Misha is struck by lightning – and lives. Flash forward two decades or so, and the adult Misha (Ed Stoppard) has become a marketing maestro. He teams with an American spy posing as an ad exec (Jeffrey Tambor) and starts a limp romance with a woman (Leelee Sobieski) solely to push the story in even more unsatisfying directions.
From there, well, charting the narrative requires a map the filmmakers neglected to provide. The main romance never generates heat, and the allegedly brilliant Misha puts together ad campaigns that wouldn’t make you buy a 99-cent widget, let alone radically change your consumer habits.
By the time Misha douses himself with cow blood, you can’t help wondering if Branded is destined for that mythical category, the “so bad it’s great” film canon.
Written and directed by film newbies Jamie Bradshaw and Aleksandr Dulerayn, Branded offers the unspoken meme that as desolate as the Soviet Union’s policies once were, the capitalistic replacement model proved even worse.
One rich theme emerges without being handled with the humor and delicacy required. Marketers attempt to make being thin uncool, and weight gain attractive, in order to sell more fast food burgers.
Another potentially enticing element stuffed awkwardly into Branded involves a marketing guru played by Max von Sydow. His appearance here is baffling, his talents squandered along with the few other clever notions abandoned by the lackluster script.
Two-thirds of the way through Branded, we’re introduced to a sci-fi component which turns Moscow’s skies into a video game-style battleground. Let the unintentional howls of laughter commence.
There’s an intriguing story to be made from the ashes of this fiery car crash, one which shows the willingness of consumers to occasionally swallow ridiculous marketing schemes against their better judgment. Yet reality routinely proves the opposite is just as often to be true. How did that New Coke thing work out, again?
No amount of brilliant marketing can make this Irwin Allen-sized disaster palatable to the public.
The Blu-ray edition comes with a commentary track by the film’s creative team.