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06 Feb 2014

It's All Downhill: The First Half of 'That Awkward Moment' Is Fun; the Second Half Is Deplorable

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Imogen Poots and Zac Efron in That Awkward Moment. Imogen Poots and Zac Efron in That Awkward Moment.

That Awkward Moment, a romantic comedy starring Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan, gets off to a promising start. It plays like a cool throwback to the romantic/sex comedies of the 1980s.

All’s well until somewhere around the midpoint of the movie—when things take a dramatic downward turn.

Efron, Teller and Jordan (all decent to great actors) respectively play Jason, Daniel and Mikey, New York City 20-somethings dealing with romance in a time of Facebook, texting and infidelity. When Mikey finds out his wife is cheating, he heads for divorce, and the other two join him in a pact to avoid relationships and stay single. It’s dating and debauchery for the three—with no commitments allowed.

Is there a distinct moment in which the film goes tragically bad? I’m not sure, but it could be the moment when Efron shows up dressed as “Rock Out With Your Cock Out!” for a cocktail party. This is a moment so jarringly stupid, and so unrelentingly inane, that I’m thinking the actors got whiplash from the violent tonal shift.

The three guys are funny and convincing together, and the main woman (the beguiling Imogen Poots) offers many reasons why Efron’s womanizing Jason would want to break his pact with the two buddies.

It’s as if writer-director Tom Gormican had half of a decent script. Maybe Efron, Teller, Jordan and Poots (That sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it?) only read the first half and signed on; then, perhaps a few weeks later, they got around to reading the crappy second half and proceeded to have a communal vomit session.

I expect Efron to occupy the sort of banal, conventional role he has in this movie. He has some talent, but his movies often stink to high heaven. Here, the behavior of his Jason is irredeemably moronic. He’s the sort of guy who deserves to wind up sitting on a park bench alone in the finale—but because looks like Zac Efron, he gets rewarded.

Teller, terrific in The Spectacular Now, is also no stranger to crap (Project X, 21 and Over, Footloose). Still, I was hoping that Spectacular signaled an end to his appearances in empty-headed party movies. Seeing him trying to pee in a toilet while suffering through a Viagra boner is not something I expected from a guy who gave one of 2013’s best performances.

Jordan, so good in last year’s Fruitvale Station (for which he absolutely deserved an Oscar nomination, but got snubbed), perhaps fares the best here. While his character, trying to reconcile a broken marriage, comes off as trite, but we never see him trying to pee with a boner.

Poots brings the film a certain amount of dignity as Ellie. Her work here deserved something better.

This movie fails because rather than being a true film about the perils of dating and relationships, it tries to become a new American Pie. Three talented guys riffing on relationships is interesting, and it could’ve stayed interesting without the boner jokes.

January 2014 brought us That Awkward Moment and I, Frankenstein. It can’t get worse for the other 11 months of the year, right? Oh, please God, tell me I’m right.

That Awkward Moment is playing at theaters across the valley.

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