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

Focus Features,

THAT AWKWARD MOMENT

⋆ out of four stars

Rating: R for sexual content and language throughout.

Laughs are scarce in 'That Awkward Moment'

  • Article by: Colin Covert
  • Star Tribune
  • January 30, 2014 - 3:39 PM

“That Awkward Moment” is a film pitched at young men hungering for a romantic comedy. Anyone still reading?

The movie is a bungled mass of relationship gab and frat-friendly gross-out gags, with the latter, and most of the laughs, front-loaded into the first few reels. Writer/director Tom Gormican, who has the comedic timing of a stepped-on Swatch, has crafted a “Sex and the City”-style story of three pals in pursuit of no-commitment snogging.

Jason (Zac Efron) is a rake with Gumby hair and a sensitive side. He designs book jackets with his best bud, Daniel (Miles Teller), a smug, ego-strutting joker. When divorce looms for their college pal Mikey (Michael B. Jordan), the trio vow to canoodle with as many ladies as possible while evading emotional entanglement. Then they meet their prospective dream girls.

There’s no reason it couldn’t work. The premise clicked in “Love’s Labors Lost.” But this movie is a veritable bonfire of comic possibilities, all sketch-pad characters and pop-culture quips. Its approach to crafting jokes is even more casual than the three amigos’ approach to sex.

Efron does nothing to challenge the perception that he’s a handsome vacuum. You could wheel a mannequin from an American Apparel shop through his scenes with about as much effect. Teller and Jordan, with outstanding earlier work on their résumés, wash out as well. Gormican gives them dithering dialogue that falls far short of witty riffing. Everyone blurts as quick as they can in vain hopes that entertainment will occur.

The women of the cast fare better. Imogen Poots likably plays Efron’s opposite number, a guy’s gal who drinks whiskey, plays Xbox and shares his literary goals. He treats her so badly — mistaking her for a hooker is the least of it — you pray they won’t wind up together. Mackenzie Davis exudes charisma in a misbegotten role as the boys’ hot-girl wingman, who steers likely lookers into their clutches. When the self-amused Teller, snuggling her in bed, declares he’s “slumming,” you cringe rather than laugh.

The men in the cast seem aware they’re in a bad movie but soldier on regardless; the women seem determined to rescue it. The title refers to nothing particular in the story but aptly describes the conversations the actors will have with their agents this weekend.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

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