So self-consciously hip it hurts, “Reclaim Your Brain” has “cool” written all over it. For starters, it stars Moritz Bleibtreu as a fast-living TV exec who abruptly changes gears and fights against the reality shows he helped create. It’s helmed by Hans Weingartner, whose “The Edukators” reveled in hip. Plus, it’s co-produced by ultra-cool Austrian shingle Coop99. But like a phonograph needle come loose from its groove and sent scratching across a now-ruined LP, all this hipness is irreparably destroyed by an awful script. Still, pic makes auds feel good, which should translate to better-than-deserved biz, even overseas.
Just as they did in “The Edukators,” Weingartner and co-scripter Katharina Held aim to rouse the social conscience of apathetic, materialistic generations. While their goals are admirable, the path they follow is full of gaping potholes, not to mention overly drawn lessons signaled in passages of pure didacticism.
Pic’s early scenes will win over viewers impressed by the flashy roller-coaster pacing and send others running for cover, as a coked-up Rainer (Bleibtreu) gives new meaning to the expression “aggressive driving.” He’s on his way to a TV studio, where his latest smash hit reality show, “Make Your Super Baby,” is being taped. Rainer is a coke-snorting, arrogant s.o.b., until he’s deliberately run down by troubled nature girl Pegah (Elsa Sophie Gambard).
Rainer’s near-death experience makes him suddenly see the light, especially when he learns Pegah’s vendetta is the result of one of his hit shows, which led to her grandfather’s suicide. After this conversion on the road to Damascus, Rainer sets out to create quality TV fare, hugging people along the way. But his new educational show gets axed by slick colleague Maiwald (Gregor Bloeb) after predictably abysmal ratings.
But wait, maybe those ratings boxes are flawed. Or maybe they’re right, but the public needs to be put on a better track. So with tech nerd Philipp (Milan Peschel), Rainer and Pegah hire a group of social misfits and train them to hotwire the ratings boxes so only art films and docus get major points. Within days the media proclaim, “Enslaved Minds Revolt,” as viewers across the country ditch their boob tubes or keep them permanently set on programs to improve their minds.
Weingartner and Held don’t appear to have decided which outcome they prefer: Pic celebrates consumers dumping their TVs, but also lauds quality programming. Do they want people to stay home for Fassbinder retrospectives in their living rooms, or would they prefer that everyone go hiking on nature trails with copies of Goethe?
Subtlety certainly isn’t a priority for “Reclaim Your Brain,” whose sentimental sappiness creates an uncomfortable fusion between the trendy and the sweet. A standard-issue grainy flashback with Pegah and her grandfather drips with stickiness — isn’t her sad-sack tale clear enough without giving it a syrupy maraschino cherry on top?
Fortunately, pic does have a sense of humor, which helps paper over such annoying lines as “You can’t hate me more than I hate myself.” Bleibtreu, though overexposed recently, can at least be relied on to deliver a good albeit overly intense performance, but relative newcomer Gambard is a complete blank. Other thesps thankfully have a more comic edge.
Visually, pic is all over the place, basking in its own stylishness. It’s understood Weingartner and d.p. Christine A. Maier (“Grbavica”) are aiming for some kind of parallel between Rainer’s drug-addled frenzy and his newfound inner peace, but lensing just feels too pleased with itself for comfort. Sound quality is superb, though music is uneven, especially Pegah’s cringingly saccharine theme tune.