Yeah, I know no known production budget. Let’s just say with my limited experience in movies I can tell this movie didn’t cost less than $2 million dollars. While I didn’t find hard numbers I know this movie was called a bomb and like with other titles like this, if I find numbers to contradict it I will note the correction. Anyway, onto the review.
When you see the trailer for Branded, you get the clear impression this is a sci-fi movie akin to They Live. In the trailer we see strange alien like creatures are being mass marketing and are subliminally controlling people to buy their products. They Live worked because its tone played as goofy as the premise.
Branded is a film that almost has to be seen to believe. Almost. I say that because while They Live played things tongue in cheek, Branded decides to take the concept and play it completely straight. And boy is Branded a train wreck because of that decision. In the first minute alone we get a boy being infused with the powers of marketing by a constellation of an astral cow and they being struck down by a bolt of lightning. Again, this is played completely straight.
This movie feels kind of like another movie I reviewed called Dragon Wars (or D-War). It was a Korean film that was meant to be a kind of hybrid American/Korean film to appeal to both audiences. It had American actors but featured a story about a Korean legend about these spiritual dragons and whatnot. It was a movie supposed to appeal to American tastes but ended up feeling, well, odd. The same feel permeates this movie. We have American actors like Leelee Sobieski and Jeffrey Tambor to make it seem like a domestic picture, but once you watch it you get this weird spiritual cow stuff that makes you think this is more relevant to the Russian audience to where this was made. It seems to draw from spiritual folklore from that region (which seems silly to us), as well as cultural beliefs. Sure, in America advertising and marketing are crazy here, but you get the feeling in Russia especially after such a long period of Communism (where they didn’t have much exposure) there is more hostility about it. The message of this film simply isn’t “advertising has gotten out of control” but marketing in any form is immoral and is corrupting both culturally and spiritually. The very end of the film has all the nations of the world band together to ban marketing. That isn’t defined either, marketing in its generic term is banned. That makes no sense. I’m not even going to go into how having all nations band together for anything would be impossible but how would you ban marketing? Our main character even gloats about how a sign on the front of your business is marketing so people can’t even have signs with names? How would you find your way to any place?
I know, I’m getting sidetracked by stupidity but that is all you have to focus on. This is played as a cautionary tale like 1984. So Max von Sydow plays an evil marketing guy (with no name) who promises to make fast food moguls rich by changing people’s opinions that fat is now sexy. Misha (Ed Stoppard) is the up and coming ad specialist who I explained earlier was blessed by a sacred cow. Anyway, he soon learns the god like power he possesses and puts himself into exile ala John Rambo. He then performs a ritual where a white cow turns gold and then he decapitates it, burns the remains in a Russian version of the Wicker Man, and covers himself in the blood of the cow. And this means he can now see the things which have latched themselves onto people causing the evil marketing to…work? Misha then uses his marketing powers to cause the brands to fight each other until they are all dead.
Wow my head hurts from the stupid. Worse is this crap isn’t even internally logical. I still don’t get any of it. Who is Max von Sydow’s character supposed to be? Satan? Generic demon? You may think that due to the spiritual cow but the brands take the forms of giant grub worms and dragons. Why is he doing this? Money? Power? What the hell are the giant grubs and why do they care about advertising or if someone eats a damn burger? Are they aliens? You already feel dumb watching it, but now I feel worse because I am arguing the logic of a movie with magic cows and giant grub worms that feed off of the gluttony of children.
As I said, this movie almost has to be seen to be believed. This movie has so many moments where you scream “WTF!?” that it is like Russian Battlefiend Earth or Russian The Room. Words cannot describe my face when the brand of a vegetarian restaurant which is an egg hatches to become a dragon and the dragon fights a giant grub worm which is the brand of the in-movie MacDonalds brand. Your logic circuits just blow up in your brain and you have the most quizzical expression. There are many parts that if I had a group of friends that were game, we would rip this movie a new one MST3K style. This is a movie that needs to be Rifftrax’d.
What keeps me from recommending it for that is the movie is not all crazy. In fact, a good portion of this movie is boring. For about an hour of the film we go away from the main plot about aliens and advertising and focus on Misha and his relationship with Leelee Sobieski. There is this whole story about how we learn Misha grew up poor and that is why he wants to be a famous ad guy, and he learns hard life lessons with his first job, and then he dates Sobieski’s character and it goes on and on and you just don’t care. This isn’t Once Upon a Time in America, this is a movie where a guy has sex with a girl with a giant CGI worm on her back.
Make no mistake about it, this is a horrible movie. The only thing I have left to debate is whether this is enough to recommend to the crowd of bad movie aficionados or to skip it. It says something that after all my years of watching movies that I have come across a movie so uniquely stupid. Other movies have become cult classics for a lot less. But there is so much down time, boring character exposition, and incredibly slow talky scenes about advertising and relationships that it becomes a lot harder to recommend. In the end you have to judge for yourselves on what your tolerances are for pain. Branded sure is a memorable movie though.