Later this year, Zac Efron will co-star with Seth Rogen in “Neighbors,” an outrageous bro comedy about the war that develops between a young father and the college kid who moves in next door. The R-rated laffer will give Efron plenty of space to riff opposite his more seasoned comedy co-star, adding a different dimension to his persona, one that is still somewhat defined by his Disney past. But before that, Efron attempts his own bro-tacular comedy with “That Awkward Moment,” an effort that while indebted to the breezy, easy camaraderie of the Judd Apatow productions that made Rogen famous, has no idea what makes them funny in the first place.
The rather insipid plot centers on Jason (Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller) who make a pact to stay single and free of attachments, to support their friend Mikey (Michael B. Jordan), who is back in the dating pool after his marriage falls apart. But of course, each of them will meet a girl that tests that promise. For Jason, temptation arrives in the form of Ellie (Imogen Poots), one of those girls who can be one of the guys, and is completely unlike the usual kind of woman he chases. For Daniel, it’s Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis), a close friend who usually helps him meet women, until he realizes she’s the one he really likes. As for Mikey, he’s barely back into the world of singles when his wife Vera (Jessica Lucas) comes back, and they try to make things work. But are any of these women worth enough to these guys to admit to each other they’re breaking the deal they’ve made? No.
One of the fundamental problems with “That Awkward Moment” is that none of these guys are likeable. Throughout the film Jason is called an “asshole”, always in jest, but it’s an accurate description for the lead trio. In Judd Apatow’s films, while the men tend to boast a big game when it comes to women, the humor comes from the fact that they’re actually clueless and inept when it comes down to interacting with the opposite sex. But here, all three are schemers to varying degrees, who have no problem bedding women, and have a set of rules they follow that gets them out of anything that might start resembling a relationship. While we’re supposed to be amused by these guys slipping in and out of the sheets, and impressed by their “rosters” (a list of girls they fuck at wide enough apart intervals to prevent the establishment of real feelings), their actions hardly make them endearing, or sympathetic to their supposed wrangling with whether or not to admit their true feelings or stick to their commitment to keep swinging.
But perhaps even worse than having to try and relate to these players suddenly being forced to consider the emotions of people other than themselves, it’s the film’s strained attempts to create catch phrases, one liners and running gags. The script from writer/director Tom Gormican presents continual jokes about Morris Chestnut, an orange penis (leading to numerous “your dick looks like” improvs, none of which are amusing) and Daniel always taking a shit in Jason’s bathroom. And in addition to Jason educating his pals on “rosters,” he also elucidates them on what he calls “the so”—the moment when a woman will ask a question starting with, “So….” and ending with “…where do you think this is going?” None of it is remotely funny, and it’s not helped that none of the leads share any chemistry.
As spirited as they are, and as readily as they dive into the material with gusto, doing their best to feel natural and unrehearsed, there is never a sense of true connection between Jason, Daniel and Mikey. Unlike the clearly genuine personal and creative spark that is generated between Rogen and the rest of the Apatow brotherhood, “That Awkward Moment” finds the three leads always aware of the laughs they are trying to get, rather than achieving them naturally. There is something of a manufactured air to the proceedings, one that is acutely aware of the techniques and traits of other similar better films, but without the strength in writing to back it up. Even the usually reliable Miles Teller is reduced to mostly shouting his lines, as if volume would make the readings any funnier. Meanwhile, Michael B. Jordan manages to redeem himself thanks to a storyline that gives him some dramatic notes to play, but it’s a scuffed opportunity in a movie that’s mostly dedicated to trying to wring laughs out of a fairly pathetic bro code.
You’ll notice there has been little mention of the women in the film, and that’s because they are afterthoughts in the story; prizes that these guys have to obtain, rather than fully fleshed out characters themselves. Acting as narrative goalposts, they stand in the distance waiting for the churning engine of this movie to go through the obvious motions wherein our heroes must make the standard One Grand Romantic Gesture to win back their hearts. And piling a clichéd third act onto a movie that already feels like a faded Xerox from other better movies, makes the last twenty minutes of this already brief 90-odd minute movie an endurance test. It’s that awkward moment when you realize you could’ve spent that $12 on anything else. [D]