How many $10,000 Rolexes or $1,000 pairs of shoes does one really need? Orlando Bloom has six of the former, and Paris Hilton has 600 of the latter. Is there any doubt they're insured? What's so morally wrong with "liberating" a few of them -- especially if your motive is fun, not profit?
Such are the New Age-old questions deeply pondered -- for about 30 seconds -- by "The Bling Ring," a group of SoCal teenagers who track celebrities' travel plans in order to rip off the nifty stuff just sitting there waiting to be ripped off in their SoCal mansions.
"Let's go shopping!" is their call to arms in writer-director Sofia Coppola's (largely true) tale, based on Nancy Jo Sales' Vanity Fair article, "The Suspects Wore Louboutins."
2.5 stars = Average
Emma Watson, Israel Broussard, Leslie Mann, Katie Chang.
R for teen drug and alcohol use and language.
The instigator is Rebecca (Katie Chang), an affluent Korean-American student at Indian Hills High School, who, like her pal Chloe (Claire Julien), is obsessed with luxury-designer fashions. They're joined by half-sisters Nicki (Emma Watson) and Sam (Taissa Farmiga), whose single mom (Leslie Mann) practices that oxymoronic thing called "home schooling" -- airheaded, touchy-feely religious notions with a total absence of supervision.
The girls' private textbooks are Teen Vogue magazine and "The Hills" reality TV show, which impart the values of looking great, getting stoned on the beach and celebrity worship. New kid Marc (Israel Broussard) is inducted as the token (fashion-conscious) male, easily lured and seduced by the partying. He aims to please by his Internet expertise with Google Maps and celebrity websites to provide the addresses -- and absences -- of the rich and famous: Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox and, above all, Lindsay Lohan.
The actual break-ins turn out to be easy as pie, none thwarted by alarm systems or armed guards. An unlocked sliding door or window is their typical mode of entry.
The choice of targets?
Paris Hilton first, "because she's dumb," says Marc. How dumb? She leaves her key under the front doormat. Like kids breaking into a candy store or King Tut's tomb, they're dazzled by the treasures -- walls full of her mag-cover pictures, her "nightclub room" complete with strip-dancer's pole, and her shoe closet that puts Imelda Marcos' to shame. ("OMG!" says one of the girls. "Her feet are so big!").
Paris never even notices or reports the first burglary. So the Bling Ring indulges in four more. (Rebecca has to be talked out of taking her dog on the fifth.) The girls view their plundering as a form of entertainment. Only Marc has nagging worries about the possible consequences. Before the 2008-09 spree is over, they heist more than $3 million in clothes, jewelry and cash. Insatiable and increasingly fearless, they start posting and posing with the booty on their cell phones. Can discovery be far behind?
Ms. Watson reportedly researched her part by watching "Keeping up With the Kardashians." She is terrific as Nicki, with her glittered eyelids and space-cadet delivery of her real-life character's real-life words. My favorite:
"I'm a firm believer in karma, and I think this situation was attracted into my life to be a huge learning lesson for me to grow and expand as a spiritual human being. ... I see myself as pushing for the universe and for peace and for the health of our planet. ... I want to lead a huge charity organization one day -- or a country, for all I know."
But Ms. Mann is the real standout actress here as Nicki's mom -- a former Playboy Playmate, masseuse and "holistic health care practitioner" -- who gives hilariously clueless pep talks to her cute little con artists in panties.
Mr. Broussard as baby-faced Marc, just looking for love and acceptance, has more issues than The New York Times, including a mounting cocaine problem and a fondness for red high heels.
There's one great visual scene: the burglarizing of Audrina Patridge's gorgeously lit (in soft blue and orange) manse in the Hollywood Hills -- a slow longshot zoom of the place in total silence, as it's being ransacked. But otherwise, a lot of hallucinatory slo-slo-mo partying takes up much screen time in attempted compensation for the lack of a real plot. Like the kids themselves, the film is maximum surface, minimal substance. Director Coppola provides some obligatory social comment -- re: their dysfunctional home lives -- but defaults largely to documentary rather than narrative mode.
Perpetrators and victims are equally unsympathetic. Warhol's 15 minutes of fame are not enough for either group. Today's social media demands 24/7 hours of fame for real and virtual lifetime alike.
The most delightfully repulsive "Bling Ring" thing is that the rip-off scenes at Paris Hilton's mansion were actually filmed there (and she does a brief cameo), happily exploiting her own victimization for more publicity. What else matters? This absolutely untalented heiress is absolutely unembarrassable!
After his arrest, Marc is consoled by getting 800 new requests to "friend" him on his Facebook page. Nicki arrives at her arraignment with an E! reality crew and pauses to tell her fans, "You can follow me and my journey and everything about me at @nicki.com."
They are almost -- but not quite -- famous.
And this is almost -- but not quite -- a good movie.
Post-Gazette film critic emeritus Barry Paris: firstname.lastname@example.org.