Theatrical dysfunction

“What kinda movie have you gotten us into, Zac?”

“What kinda movie have you gotten us into, Zac?”

Rated 1.0

That Awkward Moment, a new romantic comedy starring Zac Efron, Miles Teller  and Michael B. Jordan, has a promising start. It actually plays like a cool throwback to the romantic/sex comedies of the ’80s, until somewhere around the midpoint of the movie.

Then it takes a drastic downward turn towards comedic Hades and becomes a total garbage party.

This assemblage of decent-to-great actors play Jason, Daniel and Mikey (Efron, Teller and Jordan respectively) as some New York City dwelling 20-somethings dealing with modern day romance in a time of Facebook, texting and infidelity. When Mikey finds out his wife is cheating, and he’s heading for divorce, 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 where this film goes tragically bad? I’m not exactly sure, but I’d wager a guess it would be the moment where Efron shows up dressed as “Rock Out with Your Cock Out!” for a cocktail party. This is a moment so jarringly stupid, so unrelentingly inane, that I’m thinking the actors got whiplash from the violent tonal shift.

Until this moment, the film actually feels a bit real, and has a certain, promising warmth. The three guys are funny together and convincing as a dude trio, and the main woman (the beguiling Imogen Poots) offers many reasons for Efron’s womanizing Jason to break his pact with the two buddies.

The whole thing plays as if writer-director Tom Gormican had half a decent script. Maybe Efron, Teller, Jordan and Poots (That actually sounds like a law firm, doesn’t it?) only read half the thing and gave their reps the go for their involvement. Then, perhaps a few weeks later, when their deals were done, they got around to reading the crappy second half and proceeded to have a communal vomit session.

I sort of expect Efron to occupy the sort of banal, conventional posturing that occurs in this movie. He has some talent for sure, but his movies often stink to high Heaven. He plays a character in this movie whose behavior is irredeemably moronic. He’s the sort of guy who deserves to wind up sitting on park bench alone for the finale. But, he gets rewarded because he looks like Zac Efron.

Teller, terrific in The Spectacular Now, is also no stranger to crap (Project X, 21 & Over, Footloose). Still, I was hoping Spectacular signaled an end to him showing up 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 out of the bunch. His part of the movie, involving trying to reconcile a troubled marriage, is trite, but doesn’t involve the visual of him trying to pee with a boner. That honor goes to Efron and Teller.

The fatal flaw of this movie is that, rather than sticking to a plan and being a true film about the perils of dating and relationships, it wants to be the new American Pie. Three talented guys riffing on relationships is interesting, and it could’ve stayed interesting without the boner jokes.

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

So with this, the first month of the movie year closed out. Stuff like That Awkward Moment and I, Frankenstein hitting us in January means it can’t get worse for the other 11 months of the year, right? Oh, please God, tell me I’m right.