Totally Detached

The first reaction to "The Bling Ring" is that there is no there there. The characters seem disengaged from one another and themselves, their studied insouciance so extreme that it's hard to care about them or what they obsessively do. This from director Sofia Coppola, auteur of "Lost in Translation" and "Virgin Suicides"?

But wait. Perhaps that's Coppola's point, her film an anthropological dig into the youth culture of L.A., featuring semi-affluent teens who have little more in their lives than their ubiquitous iPhones, a fixation with brand names — Louboutin, Prada, Klein, Cartier — and celebrities, some of whom are simply famous for being famous.

Three of this band of sisters (plus one guy) are homeschooled by a ditzy mom (Leslie Mann) who takes her lesson plans straight from Facebook and self-help books such as "The Secret" and starts each day with a group affirmation and a dose of Adderall.

When Marc (Israel Broussard), a new kid, shows up at the local high school, Rebecca (Katie Chang) befriends him and teaches him the art of breaking and entering (B&E) cars and then the homes of the rich and mostly famous. Her cohort — Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Chloe (Claire Pfiser) — happily join in, and when they hear that Paris Hilton is in Vegas, the group breaks into her house (keys under the door mat) and revel in closets filled with designer everything. Which they steal, with a stunning amorality: cash, purses, dresses, watches, shoes, whatever they can carry away.

Soon their bling B&Es become as addictive as are their phones (which they use incessantly to document their clubbing and their burglaries).

These teens are adrift, loosely anchored to each other but completely self-absorbed. They are narcissistic, unprincipled and essentially empty. It's a disturbing portrait.

"The Bling Ring" feels derivative of a reality television show. But perhaps that's because reality TV is the compulsive go-to genre where the audience drops voyeuristically into the lives of strangers and watches as one crisis after the next is created due to awful choices.

Which is the essence of this film. But these are adolescent choices made as if there were no consequences, as if they were creating a home movie, which is in part why "The Bling Ring," upon reflection, is so unsettling.

Tangentially, there is a shot by the late cinematographer Harris Savides that is lovely to behold. It's a night scene, filmed across a canyon, and we see Rebecca and Marc running through a lighted glass house, moving quickly from room to room, bags in hand, the moment surreal, dream-like. But then surreal defines what these kids are about.

The screenplay (written by Coppola) is based on the 2008-09 headlines out of Calabasas, Calif., wherein the actual crew stole $3 million, their heists instantly going viral.

"White House Down"

If you had summer plans to visit the White House, best to cancel now. The White House has been turned into a fixer-upper and the Capital Dome given a haircut. The culprit? Roland Emmerich, director of "The Day After Tomorrow" and "Independence Day." But then Emmerich is a master of bang-bang, boom-boom, rinse and repeat. Plus industrial-strength mayhem.

"White House Down" is no exception. It's wildly over-the-top, claustrophobic, crazily demented, hugely destructive and seriously improbable. In other words it's just about a perfect B-movie.

But then, if its summer, it's time to just sit down in a dark theater with a super-sized bag of popcorn and watch big-screen directors such as Emmerich let 'rip. With CGI and a formulaic plot, what's not to like?

The plot in a nutshell: Capitol police officer John Cale (Channing Tatum), father of a tween daughter, Emily, precocious, and obsessed with the president and the White House, takes a tour of the digs (while dad briefly diverts for a quick job interview for the Secret Service).

It's during the tour that really bad things happen when a pack of homegrown terrorists attack the White House and are in the hunt for President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Cale, of course, proves to be Sawyer's only hope. Bruce Willis? "Die Hard"? Or the more recent Gerard Butler opus, "Olympus Has Fallen."

Lots of stuff that is centuries old gets wrecked, along with the sociopaths who actually bought into this scheme. Isn't summer grand?

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