PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
As the movie begins, the names of famous visionaries including Joan of Arc, Albert Einstein and Alexander the Great flash on the screen. A caption reads, “All of them saw things others didn’t see. All of them changed the world.”
In the early 1980s, in Soviet Russia, young Misha Galkin is in a public park at night looking at the stars. Suddenly the stars shift into the outline of a cow’s head, which turns and looks at him. Moments later, Misha is struck by lightning. A woman examines him and, seeing that he is still alive, predicts that his life will not be ordinary.
In present-day Russia, Misha (Ed Stoppard) has grown up to become a high-powered marketing executive working with Bob Gibbons (Jeffrey Tambor). When Bob’s niece Abby (Leelee Sobieski) comes to visit from America, Bob warns Misha to keep his hands off the girl, but despite Bob’s warning, Abby and Misha drift into a relationship. Misha tells Abby various trivia about the history of marketing, such as that Vladimir Lenin invented modern marketing, and that Communism was the first true global brand.
Meanwhile, on a private Polynesian island, a marketing guru named Joseph Pascal (Max von Sydow) is meeting with the executives of fast food companies. The guru tells them that, to make fast food profitable again, they must change public perceptions of beauty and “make fat the new fabulous.” An unseen voice-over narrator says that the companies agreed to carry out the guru’s plan.
In a series of documentary-style flashbacks, narrated by the same unseen narrator, we see how Misha used his natural marketing savvy to rise from a poor clerk to a marketing exec. Misha’s big break came when he met Bob, an American hired to spread Western brands and businesses in post-Communist Russia. In the present, Bob discovers Abby’s relationship with Misha and is furious.
Misha is hired to do marketing for a new reality TV show, “Extreme Cosmetica,” in which an overweight girl will undergo extensive plastic surgery to become skinny and beautiful. Everything goes wrong when, after the first operation, the girl falls into a coma. The public turns against the show and the glorification of skinny bodytypes in general, and Misha, as the show’s marketer, becomes the scapegoat. He is swarmed by protesters, beaten by police and arrested. When he is released from jail, he angrily confronts his former partner Bob, saying that he’s realized the truth: the show and the coma was all orchestrated in order to induce Abby and Misha to split up. Bob denies it (“it would take millions of dollars to manipulate public opinion that way, and it would take the greatest assassin in the world to fake the operation to put that girl in a coma!”) Later, at a bar, they get in a fight, and then, Bob has a heart attack.
Full of guilt from the “Extreme Cosmetica” girl’s fate, Misha realizes that “his marketing powers are a curse” (as explained by the narrator) and he leaves Moscow and withdraws from modern society. Six years later, Abby tracks him down to a rural community where Misha is living the simple life as a cowherd. While Abby is visiting him, Misha has a strange dream. In a dreamlike state, he performs the Red Heifer ritual, sacrificing a red cow and bathing in its ashes. When he wakes up from the ritual cleansing, he discovers to his horror that he has developed the ability to see strange eel- or blob-like creatures which cling to people’s necks and appear to be the embodiment of marketing brand desires.
Abby takes Misha to her apartment in Moscow where she reveals that she is rich (due to an inheritance from Bob) and that they have a six-year-old son. In the intervening six years, the “fat is fabulous” campaign has changed society, everyone is overweight and images of fat people are used in advertising everywhere. Their son is also overweight and loves “The Burger” and other junk-food brands. Distressed by his grotesque visions no one else can see and disgusted by the rampant commercialism around him, Misha impulsively trashes Abby’s apartment. Frightened by his behavior, Abby leaves Misha and takes their son with her.
Misha develops a plan to fight back against the branding-creatures using their own methods. Going back to his old company, he accepts a job to do marketing for Dim Song, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant chain. At the meeting with the executives, he perceives tentacles growing out of their necks connecting them to the collective Dim Song corporate-branding entity. Using dialogue which parallels Pascal’s speech to the fast food executives earlier in the movie, he promises to fix Dim Song’s problems. Misha’s solution is to cause a fake anti-beef scare (using the public’s fear of a mysterious virus similar to Bovine spongiform encephalopathy a.k.a Mad cow disease) which will frighten people from eating meat, thus turning them towards vegetarian food.
The anti-beef scare works, and burger sales drop precipitously. From the rooftop of a building, Misha watches a dragon-like entity hatch from an egg on top of the Dim Song building and fly towards The Burger restaurant, ripping apart and killing The Burger’s corporate embodiment. Misha predicts that The Burger will go bankrupt within a week, and his prediction comes true. Back on the Polynesian island, the marketing guru tells the distressed fast food executives that they are in trouble, but there is still a way to save their brands. Before he can tell them his new plan, however, he is vaporized by a bolt of lightning.
Misha continues his plan to destroy the world’s major brands by using fear-based marketing to make customers afraid of them one by one. In a CG sequence, the brand creatures fly over the city attacking and killing one another: “Yepple” killing “GiantSoft”, etc. Public opinion turns against marketing in general, and the Russian parliament considers a bill banning all advertising. Depressed and alone in his corporate office, Misha leaves a message on Abby’s cellphone, asking her for forgiveness. At that very moment, Abby shows up. Suddenly, the building is raided by anti-advertising protesters, who smash through the doors and assault the employees. Misha is struck down while he and Abby try to escape. At that moment, an emergency broadcast plays on TV, saying that Russia and the other nations of the world have agreed to ban all advertising. The protesters stop their rampage, but Misha is already lying on the floor, bleeding from a head wound.
Some time later, all advertising has been banned, the Moscow skyline is free of billboards, and bulldozers are crushing old advertising materials in the dump. In the hospital, Misha has awakened with a bandage on his head, and is playing with Abby and his son. In another room in the same hospital, the “Extreme Cosmetica” girl awakens from her coma and wanders out into the advertising-free city streets. The voice-over narrator explains that thanks to Misha, the world was changed forever. The camera pans up into the night sky and reveals that the narrator is the cow constellation that young Misha saw at the beginning of the movie
As you can tell by looking at the poster up there, Branded is one deeply disturbed film. For all of its twisted imagery, though, there is a bit of a political statement that is being made with this film. One that perhaps we should all listen to, for a change.
What is this about?
What if your favorite burger joint, clothing store and cell phone maker were more than just brands, but all part of a vast thought-control conspiracy? When Misha and Abby uncover the truth, it makes them targets of a mind-bending global monstrosity
What did I like?
Effects. The special effects in this film make Syfy channel stuff look like cutting edge, real life technology. However, I am a fan of the cheest looking stuff, so you cna about imagine that this was right up my alley. Most of this visions made no sense as to what they were, but I can appreciate the attempt to create new creatures.
What didn’t I like?
Irony. There is a bit of irony here, in that a film about the evils of advertising had one of the worst advertising campaigns known to man. No matter how bad your film is, you should at least make an effort to get people in the seats. The trailer for this did a good job of doing that, but it was so far away from what you actually get when watching this film, that I found it hard to swallow. Especially after getting my hopes up for one thing and getting another.
Villain. Max von Sydow is one of the guys in Hollywood that can play any kind of villanous character. As the apparently evil chairman of this board that basically tells people what they are going to like, such as a reality show about fat people. I’m not sure which is worse, the fact that people can be so easily manipulated or that he came up with this sinister, Bond-villain type plan.
Climax. Since it took forever and a day to finally get to the visions and whatnot, which is what we all really even bothered to watch this for, I felt a little slighted by the fact that none of them were really clear. That is to say, they just seemed like random doodles that some geek with a computer got paid to bring to life. For what it obviously the centerpiece of this entire film, whether the filmmakers want to admit it or not, this was huge letdown and I felt it could have been handled much better.
What did I ultimately think of Branded? Well, it has a decent plot, but it just isn’t executed very well. This is not something I would suggest you see. If you really want to know how bad this is, think of this…I hate remakes, but I would love for someone to come in and remake this. Do yourself a favor, forget this even exists. It is better for all that way.
2 out of 5 stars