Zac Efron wants to put his teen-idol past behind him in the most aggressive way possible. He tried fightin’, drinkin’, drivin’ and lovin’ as an unconvincing Midwestern farm boy in “At Any Price,” and he let Nicole Kidman empty her bladder on him in “The Paperboy.”
Efron tries to up the R-rated stakes in “That Awkward Moment,” a supposedly raunchy comedy about dudes and babes and relationships, but despite his frequent near-nudity, he’s saddled with a particularly bland and butterscotch-hearted tale about guys who boast about being single and care-free but who, deep down, want to find the right girl.
I was reminded of 1986’s “About Last Night” for more than one reason: this new movie borrows that earlier film’s observations about male-female sexual power plays, yes, but it also has Jim Belushi telling Rob Lowe that he’s too damn pretty, which is also Efron’s cross to bear. (We should all have such problems.) No matter how much scruff Efron grows, how much scotch he swills or how many F-bombs he drops, he’s still got a face like a basket of kittens.
And “That Awkward Moment” has a script like a basket of clichés, hauling out the hoariest insights about romance and relationships alongside gags so shopworn (I thought you said it was a costume party!) you can’t believe they still exist outside of family-hour sitcoms.
When young physician Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) learns that his wife has been having an affair and wants a divorce, the suddenly-single MD finds himself back on the New York City prowl with his best pals from college, Jason (Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller), who work together as illustrators for chick-lit book covers.
The three pledge to stay single, which naturally leads to all of them finding love: Jason with wide-eyed publisher Ellie (Imogen Poots, whose American accent is only a tiny bit more convincing than Keira Knightley‘s in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”), Daniel with his longtime wing-person Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis, “Smashed”) and Mikey with his estranged wife Vera (Jessica Lucas), who seems to be perhaps warming up to her man now that he’s moved out.
Had first-time writer-director Tom Gormican established that pledge as a bigger deal, it would help explain why the guys jump through such hoops and act like such jerks to keep their new loves secret. But since it’s an agreement made in passing, their vow doesn’t have enough heft to excuse some really awful behavior, particularly on Jason and Daniel’s part.
The plotting issues would matter less if “That Awkward Moment” actually delivered on the laughs, but there are few to be found. Gormican’s idea of a punch line is to have a character end a scene by telling another one, “You’re an idiot” (or “You’re an a?hole”), which isn’t just feeble writing, it’s also not even a joke, because it’s true.
The film’s most distinguished feature is the cinematography by Brandon Trost (“This Is the End,” “Crank: High Voltage”), who apparently loves New York City more than the filmmaker does his characters.
Teller (coming off of “The Spectacular Now” and Sundance hit “Whiplash”) and Jordan (whose turn in last year?s “Fruitvale Station” put him on everyone’s radar) will soon be leaving this one off their distinguished résumés, but if anyone comes out of “That Awkward Moment” unscathed, it’s the island of Manhattan.
As for Efron, I remain confident that his career’s current awkward moment can still give way to the movie that will make him a full-grown man on the big screen.