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The Mad Cow 2012 | 106 min | R



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Theatrical release date

 07 September, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Branded Blu-ray

Branded Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, September 7, 2012

“Branded” is a head-scratcher of a film that could only be decoded after a long sit-down with its creators, writer/directors Jamie Bradshaw and Alexander Dulerayn. It’s up to these two to fully flesh out their intentions to the general public, because the movie they’ve made is borderline incomprehensible, and not in an intriguing manner that immediately encourages closer inspection. Narrated by a cow-shaped constellation and set in the “dystopian future” of 2012, “Branded” is an outrageous call to arms with its shoelaces tied together, falling flat on its face the moment it gets around to charging ahead. Its ambition is decimated by its absurdly slapdash assembly and fogged messages on the zombification of consumerism.

In present day Moscow, Misha (Ed Stoppard) is “marketer spy” working for American Bob (Jeffery Tambor), tasked with creating incredible feats of promotion to help keep the public sufficiently warped by artificial needs. When a fast food overlord (Max van Sydow, making a boat payment) executes an advertising test run in Kenya, Brazil, and Russia that celebrates obesity through deceptive means, it’s an immediate hit, though it torches the careers of Misha and lover Abby (Leelee Sobieski), who are eventually separated. Six years later, fat is the new black, with a hamburger corporation running the country, while Misha has lost his way, hiding from humanity in the wilds of Russia. Inspired by a divine force to slaughter a magical red cow and bathe in its ashes, Misha is granted clarity of vision, able to see parasitical balloon animals that represent evil forces of consumerism, urging the former marketing guru to manufacture rumor campaigns in the form of monsters that fly around town and attack demonic advertising manipulations.

Hopefully, the above synopsis is somewhat clear, though I’m at a disadvantage accurately describing “Branded,” which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Its purpose as a tool to inspire viewers to question the corporate world is fascinating, yet “Branded” resembles a confused picture that’s been passed through numerous editorial hands, with each pass coming up with a fresh way to cloud the message the filmmakers originally intended to express. Flattened in a manner that makes certain the viewer is able to keep up with the rotting nuances of the effort, “Branded” has been tattooed with hand-holding narration used to explicitly state the intention of evil and cover plot points that have been chopped out of the feature for pacing reasons (dream sequences are also identified by screen text). Leaping back and forth through time, the story doesn’t stop in one place for very long, necessitating comments from the star cow to measure the depth of the wicked fast food plan and Misha’s professional hell, where he works with Abby to create “Extreme Cosmetics,” a reality series about beauty and weight loss that’s intentionally sabotaged by dark forces to aid obesity rates. There’s also time in the middle of the movie devoted to explaining Misha’s origin as a marketing whiz who was struck by lightning as a child. I suppose I should thank the star cow for its input, otherwise “Branded” would be completely bewildering.

Armed with fake names (Apple becomes “Yepple”) to help satirize our modern world of ubiquitous advertising, “Branded” seeks to expose wicked manipulations and media corruption, isolating the cycle of misinformation that’s often employed to guide consumer choice, or what passes for choice these days. Again, it’s a terrific idea for a movie, polished with an abstract escalation that encounters repeated bovine imagery and twitches of madness. It’s only a shame the promising material has been pushed aside to maintain a lifeless dramatic subplot concerning Misha and Abby’s domestic woes once the marketer spy returns from his red cow ash baptism with eyes wide open. The characters are flat and the performances comatose (Stoppard is as bland a hero as they come), keeping Bradshaw and Dulerayn busy while the rest of their vision gradually shrivels into impenetrable nonsense.

“Branded” is largely expositional for the majority of its run time (repeatedly blaming Vladimir Lenin for modern marketing), with the last act reserved for the baddie balloons and their consumer feeding schedules disrupted by Misha’s dragons of free choice. The visual effects are awful, and there’s no explanation of what we’re seeing -- a curious turn of events in a movie that’s obsessive about clarifying its story at every turn. These battling intangible symbols of mind control and Misha’s “war on beef” (which confuses the message of the feature, replacing meat consumption with the equally towering vegetarian industry) make up the action of the finale, trying to blast the screen with excitement after nearly 90 minutes of poorly stitched stasis. It’s more puzzling than rousing.

Interestingly, the marketing for “Branded” is wildly misleading, with distributor Roadside Attractions clearly skipping a viewing of their own release, preferring to sell the picture as a distinct conspiracy thriller with exhilaration and intrigue around every corner. “Branded” is not that movie. At times, it’s not actually a movie at all. It’s a soggy collection of ideas balled up into a half-realized condemnation of consumerism, looking to inspire personal responsibility without the burden of consistent storytelling.

Starring: Anna Abonisimova, Ingeborga Dapkunaite, Max von Sydow, Ed Stoppard, Jeffrey Tambor, Leelee Sobieski
Directors: Jamie Bradshaw, Aleksandr Dulerayn

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