There’s at least some risk that auds will come to see “Bratz” expecting a movie about German meat products. That would be wrong: No Germans seem to be involved. The second bigscreen extravaganza of the season to be based on a toy — and a movie so noisy, cloying and hysterically adolescent it may create its own cult of the perverse — “Bratz” offers supporting evidence that any film in which “Awesome!” gets uttered more than three times should get a NC-17 rating, regardless of all the benefits such a move would deny the hair-extension industry.
Based on a line of fashion dolls that has also inspired an animated TV show, “Bratz” is a tough movie to pass judgment on — at least, if motive can be considered a factor in sentencing. Brazenly shoplifting along the entire Rodeo Drive of teen-girl classics (especially, if not exclusively, “Clueless,” “Mean Girls” and “Election”), it takes everything in its grab bag to an extreme, including the titular quartet of hotties who, inexplicably, appear to be entering high school at the age of 20.
At Carry (sic) Nation High School — a combination health spa and disco, with a nod to the fascist slave factory of “Metropolis” — the four begin as “BFF” (best friends forever!). But they are divided by new allegiances to new cliques: Brainiac Jade (Janel Parrish) becomes a chemistry geek, Sasha (Logan Browning) a get-down cheerleader, Cloe (Skyler Shaye) a soccer player with David Beckham’s foot. Only Yasmin (Nathalia Ramos) remains more or less unaffiliated, like Switzerland.
But the four aren’t happy, and they are reunited two years later by a renewed moral vision, thereby creating a sociopolitical allegory about the evils of tribalism, the former Yugoslavia and the theory of the unitary executive — as embodied by one Meredith Baxter Dimly (Chelsea Staub).
Meredith is an interesting entry in the history of the don’t-hate-me-because-I’m-beautiful school of villainy. Although viewers have seen Meredith’s ilk before, she operates at a level previously unattained among adolescent dictators: She assigns seating at lunch, can reduce a freshman to dust with one withering glance and has the backing of the dithering principal (a terrific if unrecognizable Jon Voight), who happens to be her father.
“Bratz’s” references and parodies are consistently on-target, if always way too over-the-top. Every line of dialogue could plausibly take an exclamation point; most of the characters seem to be medicated, and Lainie Kazan, who has over the years played Italian, Jewish and Greek, now appears as Yasmin’s apparently Hispanic-Jewish granny. The music cues are so obvious and stupid, they’re the funniest thing in the movie — except, perhaps, when Meredith is picking acts for the school talent show: “If I see one more violin-playing contortionist, I’ll scream.”
A current AT&T ad for Internet service urges the listener to “share your individuality with people just like you.” Which is essentially the message of “Bratz.” For all its blather about “letting your spirit soar,” it’s really about furthering an MTV-defined version of cool, which means too many clothes, too little education and too much money. Meredith lives in a house that would embarrass Michael Jackson — and her father is a school principal. Obviously, it was Mom who had the money, which makes us wonder where Dad hid the body. And evokes our sympathy.