Selling itself as a futuristic thriller, weird Russian-American hybrid “Branded,” shot in Russia with American, English and Russian actors (plus Max von Sydow) defies easy categorization — as well as logic — in its muddled tale of corporate conspiracies, runaway consumerism and true love. Featuring a cow-in-the-sky narrator, a ritual blood sacrifice, humans sporting pulsating balloon-like appendages and a world overrun with overweight people, this messy amalgam of mysticism, romance, satire, social criticism and cartoonish f/x seems destined for discount DVD bins soon after its Sept. 7 release.
Misha (Edward Stoppard), a marketing genius marked for greatness after being struck by lightning as a kid in the film’s brief 1980s-set prologue, leaves his lucrative post at the Moscow ad agency/U.S. spy operation run by Bob Gibbons (Jeffrey Tambor) to team up with Bob’s daughter Abby (Leelee Sobieski) for work and play. Misha and Abby are soon running a marketing firm of their own, where they become unwitting agents in a conspiracy masterminded by an evil marketer (Max von Sydow) and his fast-food industry client to promote a campaign for thinness engineered to make people fat. Soon fat is beautiful, and Sobieski flees to America while Misha retreats to the middle of nowhere to herd cows.
After a mystical revelation, Misha returns to Moscow, now gifted with the ability to see brands as they throb and grow from unsuspecting people’s bodies, controlling their desires. He sets in motion a plan — manifested onscreen with a lot more cheesy special effects — designed to foment a backlash against the advertising industry.
Filmmakers interweave the love story of Misha and Abby, their union blessed with a little fat boy born during Misha’s sojourn among the cows, but still threatened by Abby’s lack of belief in his visions.
“Branded,” the brainchild of tyro U.S. multihyphenate Jamie Bradshaw and Russian TV multihyphenate Alexander Doulerain (neither of whom, apparently, can claim a handle on genre filmmaking) at least scores points for tacky, Ed Wood-esque originality. Thesping is seldom more than adequate, neither Stoppard nor Sobieski summoning much sympathy for their characters. Yet oddly, while the effects prove uniformly awful, Rogier Stoffers’ lensing convinces more completely in the film’s crazier sections than in its supposedly realistic passages.