By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Mini-trend alert: Real-life celebrities and their reel-life homes entered into the formula for the recent This Is the End. They do as well in The Bling Ring.  And once again, they’re victims.

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Hooray for Hollywood.

Inspired by real-life events detailed in a 2010 Vanity Fair article, “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” by Nancy Jo Sales, The Bling Ring chronicles the behavior of a group of five teenagers in Los Angeles, each from a dysfunctional family of one sort or another, who break into a series of celebrity homes in 2008, stealing expensive clothing and jewelry.

(2½ stars out of 4)

(2½ stars out of 4)

Emma Watson, leaving Hermione Granger behind as she enters the post-Harry Potter phase of her career, plays Rebecca.  She’s joined by Nicki (Alexis Neiers), Marc (Nick Prugo), Sam (Tess Taylor), and Chloe (Courtney Ames), known collectively as the Bling Ring.

The high schoolers’ modus operandi is to use the Internet to determine where certain celebs live and when they will be out of the country — and thus far away from their well-appointed homes — so they can be successfully burglarized.

Among their well-known victims:  Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Megan Fox, Rachel Bilson, and Orlando Bloom.

And thus would these fame- and wealth-obsessed pillagers, whose world is fueled and regulated by celebrity gossip, gain their own fifteen minutes of fame (if for infamous reasons), and their riches, however ill-gotten.

This is Sofia Coppola’s fifth directorial outing. She’s had a promising triumph (The Virgin Suicides), a celebrated triumph (Lost in Translation), and an intriguing if problematic curiosity (Marie Antoinette).

Unfortunately, however, she also created the dreadfully pretentious and annoying Somewhere, her previous 2011 feature, a deadpan price-of-fame portrait of the mindless decadence, monotony, and ennui of the undeserving overprivileged, and it is that misstep that The Bling Ring improves upon, but that it also most resembles and recalls.

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At times, as Coppola’s camera pans and tilts in celebrity bedrooms and closets, the film seems little more than an ode to conspicuous consumption.  But we also know, as we catch ourselves cataloging what we’re seeing, that she’s also making a point about us.

That said, the film sure could use a fictional character born of dramatic license, who articulates some of what we’re thinking about what we’re seeing.

Coppola, who also wrote the materialism- and narcissism-themed script, lets us see ourselves in the youthful rich-and-famous-wannabe burglars without being pushy about it.  But maybe she should have been.

Why? Because they’re so shallow, selfish, greedy, petty, vacant, status-hungry, and oblivious, it’s difficult to identify with them in any but the most oblique of ways.

Watson acquits herself well, as do her castmates, but because Coppola keeps her distance from any of the individual characters while she documents their group behavior, the film’s impact parallels that of an admittedly interesting magazine article -– appropriately enough –- rather than a dramatic and affecting movie.

This world of Hollywood wealth and supposed entitlement is obviously one that Francis Coppola’s daughter knows well.  But her cautionary tale would connect a lot more forcefully with the audience with a more strategic script and a less detached approach. However, at least we know we’re watching a work that captures the zeitgeist.

So we’ll burgle 2½ stars out of 4 for The Bling Ring. Director Sofia Coppola takes another look at our excessive celebrity culture and the privileged young’s wayward activities and finds it -– and them, and us -– wanting.  Literally.

More Bill Wine Movie Reviews

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