The people who put "Branded" together clearly had a message they wanted to tell but as the movie plays out, it becomes obvious that they had no idea what they were doing or how to convey their point. Watching this movie is akin to talking to a crazed, homeless person ramble about the evils of advertising while a pompous college student who's taken a single class about marketing argues with him. It's a true oddity because it is simultaneously boring and captivating. It's boring because it often makes no sense and drifts around aimlessly but it's also such a colossal train wreck that you can't keep your eyes off of it. This movie is so out-there that you can't give a synopsis without spoiling things because each scene seems barely connected to the previous or the next one. So I guess this is an official SPOILER ALERT! Although, even if I spoil everything that is going to happen there is no way you will actually believe me. But don't take my word for it, read on.
The movie begins with our main character seeing stars come to life and getting hit by a bolt of lightning before the beginning credits even finish this is a symbol of his divine-given gift for marketing. In present-day Russia, Misha (Ed Stoppard) has grown up to become a high-powered advertising executive. An evil council representing the fast food restaurant chains of the world hires him to help promote a new reality TV show. It turns out that in the future, people have become wise to the damaging side-effects of eating unhealthy food and that the big companies are losing a ton of money. The executives join together under the advice of a mysterious figure, which one can only assume is the devil (played by Max von Sydow). He tells them that to bring the profits back into their pockets, they will need to make fat the new fabulous. Misha is put in charge of the TV show, where an overweight girl is going to receive a complete makeover, complete with lyposuction. The evil companies set the first operation for a catastrophic failure and the public turns against skinny body types, just as the villains predicted they would. Misha is so ashamed and guilty over this development that he becomes a hermit, believing his marketing powers to be a curse.
Six years later he gets brought back to civilization by his lover Abby (Leelee Sobieski), who reveals to him that she has fathered his son, but not before he sacrifices a red cow to the full moon in order to enhance his marketing powers and get back at the companies that used him. This is where the movie really gets crazy. When Misha walks back into the city he discovers that he has the ability to literally see the brand-related desires of everyone, including his family. Bizarre, colourful creatures grow on top of people's heads until they desire is satisfied and they float away, combining together to create a giant brand identity. Let me see if I can explain that by giving you an example of how it would work in the real world. So let's say I saw and advertisement to see "Branded" and wanted to see it. A small creature, representing the public image of the film would start growing on me, being fed by my desire to see the film as I get bombarded by advertisements until I go inside the theatre and watch the movie, at which point the bloated creature, now satisfied would float away, combining itself with the already existing, giant central "Branded" entity, which now becomes larger and more powerful.
To combat the fast food industry, Misha sets up a two-pronged advertising captain for a vegetarian restaurant, promoting their nutritious food and generating paranoia among the people by insinuating that ground beef is contaminated. The campaign works so effectively that it soon becomes the norm for all advertising. Now, instead of promoting how good cars are, companies tell you what a lousy idea spending money on diapers is, bullying you into buying their produts... somehow. As Misha sees it, this development manifests itself into the brand of the world actually fighting each other like giant monsters, hacking off each other's limbs and devouring each other. Just as the story becomes exciting, the people of the world decide that enough is enough and they band together to destroy all of the advertising in the world. A giant cow constellation in the sky tells us that the world has changed forever, thanks to Misha!
Ok, so from that synopsis, if you were to rent this movie and sit down to watch it, you would be preparing yourself for an absurdist perhaps artsy movie that's going to be kind of quirky, with some awesome monster sequences towards the end. That's not what you get at the beginning though, you get what of feels like a ridiculous quasi comedy about a guy that works in marketing and advertising. You see over-the-top characters interacting with our protagonist and these really weird, terrible pieces of advertising throughout and you think to yourself "ok, so this has to be some kind of satirical piece". Then you meet the antagonists, the heads of every fast-food corporations of the world, who have become desperate to make more money to the point of selling their souls to Satan. I'll admit I'm not certain the character Joseph Pascal is supposed to be demonic, but it really feels like he is supposed to. He tells them that people's desire to be thin and healthy has ruined their industry and to get back on top, they'll have to re-create the world's idea of beauty. Ok, so what do we get from there? This sounds like something that's completely different from before. A few minutes prior you were seeing a guy get chewed out by his boss because the 5-second ad for the horror movie he made had the wrong kind of scream in it and now we're talking about a global conspiracy? There's evil secret plots going on, weird revelations about our characters, a love plot, some pseudo-intellectual messages about marketing, some of which is true, some of which is pretty questionable (did you know for example that Lenin invented marketing in 1918? If that doesn't sound right, pat yourself on the shoulder) and you also get some comedic hi-jinks too. Then all of a sudden, it changes again. Our character has an existential crisis, we get weird symbolism, pagan rituals and talks about destiny. We're introduced to this crazy dystopian future where fast food almost rules the world and you start getting frustrated because you can't figure out what the movie is trying to do at all and a lot of it makes no sense whatsoever. Plot points get introduced and dropped seemingly at random and it feels like the movie's completely given up on making any sense whatever. There's symbolism all over the place, characters start acting really illogically (if you're seeing things that nobody else can, maybe you should either try acting normal or go see a psychiatrist instead of screaming and destroying everything around you) and you even get giant monsters thrown in on top of all that. Too bad those monsters look pretty terrible, thanks to the lousy CGI effects, something I could have forgiven if the movie was actually decent.
While the movie is certainly never boring because things keep happening and you can never predict it, you eventually just give up and start watching it in a zombie-like trance just to get it over with. The movie feels like it's pieced together from bits of other random movies with a lot of the movie's crucial plot elements delivered by an omnipotent narrator to help fill in the gaps between scenes. "Branded" feels like it drags on forever and in some ways it's such a mess that you have to see it to believe it but sitting through it is also feels like an Herculean task. Overall it's an absolute mess that feels like someone who has only the vaguest idea of what branding and marketing is trying to explain to you what it is, how it works and why it's evil with ham-fisted symbolism and ridiculous plot points. It's never really boring but it's never really coherent either so see it at your own risk. (On Dvd, April 12, 2013)