Friday, February 28, 2014

NON-STOP Is B-Movie Goodness That Furthers Liam Neeson's Legend

NON-STOP Review:

- Will Non-Stop win any Oscars? No. Is Non-Stop all that much different in style or execution from other Liam Neeson action vehicles? No. Is Non-Stop everything you could want in a movie called Non-Stop starring Liam Neeson? Oh hells yeah. So yeah, don't worry that this is a dud like director Jaume Collet-Serra's last Neeson flick, Unknown. While that film suffered from too much somber seriousness, Non-Stop goes full "LIAM NEESONS!" to make a film that would give Key & Peele's fictional film fan characters plenty to geek-out about.

From start to finish, Non-Stop is just a pure adrenaline-rush roller-coaster ride. And it's the perfect film for Neeson, who gets to do all of the things he does best. His character here is Bill Marks (continuing his streak of playing characters with simple-but-awesome-sounding names), an air marshal who dutifully rides commercial airlines to keep an eye out for suspicious activity, even though he doesn't like flying. Marks weariness is heightened by a tragic past - a deceased daughter, and by a drinking problem that does little to drown his sorrows. Suffice it to say, he's the sort of sad-sack loner who you just might suspect could go-off-the-rails. And so it goes. When the flight he's on is hijacked by a mysterious terrorist hiding in plain sight, blame naturally shifts to Marks - with the crew, passengers, his superiors, and a comically panicked news media all rushing to point a finger at the brooding, troubled marshal. But we as the audience are clued in to the fact that Marks is also LIAM NEESONS, pretty much the most noble, do-gooding, doggedly justice-seeking badass there is.

And therein lies the fun of the movie - we know Liam is being set up ... by by whom? And why? And how much ass is going to get kicked when the beleaguered Bill Marks gets his hands on the bastard who dared made us - even momentarily - question the patriotism, mettle, and merit of our beloved hangdog hero?

To its credit, NON-STOP doesn't get bogged down in overly serious melodrama. It plays things with a B-movie wink at the audience, and is ready and willing to go big and over-the-top to deliver maximum "holy $%&#!" factor (see: the climactic gun battle in which Liam Neesons grabs and fires a floating gun, mid-air, while the plane plummets towards the ground). At the same time though, the film is surprisingly and satisfyingly logical in the way that its central mystery unfolds. Many times during the movie, we're sure we've got the mystery terrorist pegged, but each time - right up until the end - the movie delivers a well-placed twist that makes us re-think everything we thought we knew. Unlike Unknown, in which the mystery never came together in a meaningful way, this time the clues, misdirections, and resolutions all work really well. The movie keeps you guessing, but it also doesn't cheat - a rare thing for this type of film.

Neeson is at his bellowy best here. This is him in semi-cartoon character mode, so don't expect a more nuanced, deep performance as we got in films like The Grey. This is the Neeson from Taken, oddly ambiguous accent and all (his character is said to be Irish-born, but whatever). Still, even in these broader action-hero roles, Neeson is so good because there is that sadness and hint of tragedy in his eyes - which then morphs into righteous anger when he's been targeted. He's older, sure, but that only means that he goes about his missions of vengeance with lion-like paternal instinct. He doesn't kick ass because he can, but dammit all, because he must.

Julianne Moore is the other lead here, and she's pretty good as a passenger who befriends Neeson, but who may or may not secretly have an agenda. Moore plays the part just right, so we're never quite sure if she can be trusted. But honestly, what makes the mystery here work so well is that, like the best 80's action movies, NON-STOP doesn't necessarily give us a ton of info about each key character on the plane, but it gives us some defining characteristics - just enough so that the film establishes a colorful gallery of potential rogues that we can actively place suspicion. Interestingly, one of those characters is played by rising star Lupita Nyong'o. The role is pretty small, but hey, there are signs of the talent that we saw in 12 Years a Slave, which I'm sure we'll see in full view again soon.

Are there moments where NON-STOP gets a little too cheesetastic for it's own good? Sure. In particular, the way that the passengers and others begin to turn against Neeson, despite his best intentions, can feel a bit contrived (though it all leads to one hell of a "win back their trust" speech from Neeson). But mostly, the movie is in on the joke. When a character asks Liam Neeson how he knows his far-fetched plan to keep a bomb from destroying the airplane will work, and Neeson brazenly replies (paraphrasing) that there's now way of knowing, as such a plan has never been attempted in recorded history - the movie practically pauses to allow for semi-ironic laughter. And that's cool. The movie is not Taken levels of awesome by any means, but for what it is, it's pretty spot-on. Put it this way, this one will only further the legends of LIAM NEESONS' legendary awesomeness.

My Grade: B+

Monday, February 24, 2014

3 DAYS TO KILL Is a Decent Way To Kill Two Hours On a Sunday Afternoon

3 DAYS TO KILL Review:

- Even at their worst, Luc Besson-produced films tend to have a pulpy, B-movie sensibility that I find entertaining. Unfortunately, 3 DAYS TO KILL - directed by McG and co-written by Besson - is indeed one of the lesser films that the legendary director has had his name attached to. Don't get me wrong, it's got its moments, and there's some real fun to be had here. But the film seems to be an uneasy melding of Besson's pulp-action, darkly satirical sensibilities with McG's lighter, fluffier tendencies. The movie wants to be both badass and sappy - a weird mix of McG's TV show Chuck and Besson's signature spy thrillers like Leon: The Professional. The result is a film that is sort of all-over-the-place, and that begins to come apart at the seams the longer it goes.

What must be said, however, is that - hell yeah, it's good to see Kevin Costner back as a badass. It's been far too long, and guys like Costner only get more entertaining the older and more grizzled they become. And Costner excels here as a former trained CIA killer named Ethan Renner. This isn't him trying to play the superhero - no, this is a guy whose back and knees ache, who's got a lot of mileage, and who is most definitely too old for this $#!%. Costner really helps to carry the movie, and he ably juggles all of its tonal extremes. He's pretty much the only person in the film who pulls off both the badassery and the sentimentality with aplomb.

Now, Costner is good, but the plot he's thrown into does him no favors. Basically, just after retiring as a spy, Costner finds out that he has a deadly disease that leaves him with less than a year to live. Hoping to make the best of the time he has left, he travels to Paris to try to reconcile with his estranged wife (Connie Nielsen) and daughter (Hailee Steinfeld). But when he arrives, a mysterious, femme-fatale CIA handler named Vivi (Amber Heard) recruits him for one last mission. It seems that a terrorist whom Ethan had put away years back is now on the loose, and Ethan is once again needed to track him down. In exchange for his services, Vivi promises Ethan an experimental cure for his disease.

What ensues is a very Chuck-like comedy of errors, in which Ethan attempts to balance his new-found commitment to his family with his renewed obligation to the CIA. The problem is that the movie doesn't focus in enough on the main characters or plot to really make us care, all the while distracting with numerous subplots that are go-nowhere.

For example, Amber Heard's character, Vivi, feels like a lot of wasted potential. I'm an unabashed Amber Heard fan, and I think she excels at doing campy, pulpy, winking-at-the-audience parts (see: Drive Angry). However, the movie never really settles on what the deal is with Vivi - we get vague hints that she's an exhibitionist and a danger-addict. And there's a half-baked attempt at creating an adversarial relationship with Costner, who inexplicably seems not only strangely immune to her feminine wiles, but also actively turned off by them. Vivi is a fun character, and Heard vamps and camps it up with gusto - but the character is ultimately too random - and too tonally off from most of the rest of the film - to make an impact.

As another example, there's a pretty pointless subplot in which Costner goes back to the old apartment he kept in Paris, only to find it occupied by a large, semi-impoverished family. Initially, Costner aims to kick out the squatters, but soon warms up to them. It's a very needless plot thread that just makes the movie feel padded. Meanwhile, the film's villains are sorely lacking in personality and clear motivation, and are generic as can be. Same goes for Ethan's wife - Nielsen's character is just sort of there, and we don't quite see any evidence of why Ethan is so eager to win her back. Most of the time, she seems sort of abrasive and cold towards him, until suddenly a switch is flipped and she inexplicably comes around.

One more bit of oddness: the entire story thread involving the magic serum that Vivi gives to Ethan - it's incredibly random in how it plays out, and makes no real sense. The whole conceit is that the drug makes Ethan woozy and weak, unable to see straight or stand straight. So why is Vivi giving it to him just before missions? And why, exactly, is Ethan needed for these missions - at the least, couldn't they get him some back up? Point being: if the CIA is so intent on catching the badguys here, why send in a guy, solo, who's prone to blacking out on the job? I was waiting for some twist about Ethan being manipulated by the CIA, but it never came.

Handled much better, however, is the Costner-Steinfeld, father-daughter relationship. Steinfeld is a great young actress, and she, like Costner, makes scenes that could have been eye-rollingly sappy work way better than they have a right to.

What also works, for the most part, is the action. McG has always had a knack for staging fun, energetic action scenes - and he does it again here.There is some classic Besson-style mayhem - gunfights, car-chases, and good ol' fashioned brawls. Nothing quite as good as the best scenes in, say, Taken, but some very solid stuff nonetheless. And Costner dishes out the right hooks with gravitas aplenty. He also gets a chance to hit us with some dryly funny "get off my lawn" humor, which sometimes misses the mark, but occasionally made me chuckle. In particular, a speech he gives to his daughter's soccer-playing boyfriend about the merits of real American football is pretty amusing. What's more, even when the movie is sort of flailing plot and tone-wise, it still looks great and features all sorts of well-shot Paris locales.

I can sometimes chalk up the weirdness in these Besson-produced films to them simply having a slightly foreign-feeling, Eurocentric sensibility. And often, I'm willing to forgive or even embrace the jarring eccentricities because they are outweighed by a tangible, sleek sense of subversiveness - and a visceral badassery - that makes these movies feel distinct and unique from their American counterparts. However, the eccentricities of 3 DAYS TO KILL include major logic gaps, underdeveloped characters, and tonal oddities that can't simply be covered up by a game lead in Costner and some bursts of cool action. And yet, there is fun to be had here, and fans of Euro-action may still want to give this one a look. Just don't expect the next Taken.

My Grade: B-

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

THE LEGO MOVIE Is a Triumphant, Imaginative, Surprisingly Deep Meta-Adventure


- How did this happen? I don't think anyone anticipated that THE LEGO MOVIE would turn out not just to be an instant-classic animated movie, but one of the most fun family films in years. And yet, thanks to a funny, fantastic script, eye-popping animation, and an all-star voice cast, this film defied the odds and is not just better than it had any right to be, but a great film by any measure.

THE LEGO MOVIE comes to us from the team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who have brought humor and heart to movies as diverse as the animated Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and the recent, raunchy, 21 Jump Street reboot. These guys are good - very good - at what they do. And they help to ensure that The Lego Movie is visually dynamic, but also incredibly clever and smart.

The genius originates from the script by Lord, Miller, and Dan and Kevin Hageman. I can't stress enough: the script to this film is flat-out brilliant. The way that it dispenses critical information in a way that's completely economical - but also super-imaginative and super-funny - is worthy of the highest praise. I could go on and on, but I'll talk for a second about the movie's fantastic premise ...

The script imagines a Lego world that has become a sort of mass-delusional authoritarian dystopia, in which the rank-and-file workers have been brainwashed into a sort of gleeful delirium. All of these little yellow Lego people live their lives per their designated instructions - never deviating from the rules that dictate every aspect of their existence. The populace is lorded over by President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell), who poses as a benevolent leader, but who is secretly Lord Business - a scheming, evil mastermind whose ultimate goal is to impose total order to every Lego land, eliminating all individuality, randomness, chaos, and creativity. When a regular-joe builder named Emmett (Chris Pratt) deviates from his usual rule-regulated routine, his eyes begin to open to the oppressive nature of his world. He's taken in by rebellious, rainbow-haired Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), who believes that he might just be the Chosen One prophesied by rebel leader Vitruvius  (Morgan Freeman). Joined by a motley crew of freedom fighters, Emmett and company formulate a plan to end the tyrannical reign of Lord Business and bring individuality and creativity back to their world.

What takes the story to another level is how well the script both plays with the well-worn tropes of the classic "chosen one vs. evil empire" story. The film is super aware not just of itself, but of the pop-culture multiverse from which it draws inspiration. This manifests not just on a meta level, but on a really fun surface level. We get a Lego world where Emmett and Wyldstyle exist alongside the likes of Batman (she's dating him), Gandalf, Dumbledore, Han Solo, Shaquille O'Neal, and many, many more. There hasn't been this sort of gloriously crazed pop-culture character mash-up since the days of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

But again, the film isn't just satisfied to have these characters cameo. This version of Batman, for example - hilariously voiced by Will Arnett - is a brilliant parody of what Batman has become in pop-culture in recent years - an uberconfident, all-powerful guy who's actually sort of a jerk. While Batman is the most prominent pop-cult character in the film, every appearance is utilized for maximum effect. The Star Wars cameos absolutely kill. The other superheroes that pop-up? Hilarious.

But really, the heart and soul of the film is Emmett. And man, Chris Pratt just nails it - bringing the same sort of lovable charm he shows each week as Andy on Parks and Recreation. But again, what makes Emmett so great is that he's *not* just a Luke Sywalker clone. Despite being hailed as a chosen one, Emmett never loses his averageness, his goofiness, or his dogged and legitimate love for following instructions. THE LEGO MOVIE, in that respect, never devolves into cliche. The movie is always one step ahead, and instead of Emmett having to step up and embrace some previously-unfathomable destiny, he instead realizes that he's got all the tools he needs to make a difference - he just needs to cleverly apply them to the situation at hand.

What's remarkable is that Emmett, Wyldstyle, Lord Business, and the other main characters of the film have remarkable dimension. Even side characters like Liam Neeson's Bad Cop/Good Cop, or Charlie Day's Benny the 80's Spaceman have unexpected depth.

The movie puts character first, but it also takes on some really big, really heady stuff. The opening scene of the film is a brilliant montage, showing us the preternaturally-happy residents of the Lego world, cheerfully singing the "Everything Is Awesome" song and going about their daily routines. But everything feels artificial and forced, and the characters act so unquestioningly and obediently that their is the unmistakable scent of dystopia in the air. Of course, this is all a very, very sly take on our world, the real world. In one brilliant opening sequence, these cartoon characters have completely and brilliantly skewered our oft-times conformist, consumerist culture. And not only that, but they've dissected that intangible sense of creativity and freedom that is inherent in children, but lost in adults. It's the creativity that makes playing with toys like Legos a joy, and it's that same creativity that Lord Business - the quintessential "adult" of this world - is intent on eliminating.

And man, the movie does a great job of getting at these big, satirical, philosophical issues early on. But later, the film flips the switch and goes somewhere very unexpected: the real world. Now, this could have been a huge mistake if handled indelicately. But when THE LEGO MOVIE suddenly morphs into live-action, and we see the human embodiment of Lord Business - Will Ferrell - as not an evil, power-mad dictator, but as a regular (if slightly OCD) dad ... well, it's then that the film introduces a very real, emotional element to the plotline. The emotional stakes of the movie are driven home: Emmett and Wyldstyle's quest is that of all of us: to hold on to our childlike impulses and creativity and individuality in the adult world. And Lord Business is the at-times well-meaning, but ultimately oppressive force of adulthood, of consumerism, of conformity. Holy $%&# - THE LEGO MOVIE isn't messing around, people.

THE LEGO MOVIE can be watched and enjoyed completely at a surface level. It's got whiz-bang action scenes, colorful characters, rapid-fire and insanely clever jokes, and more pop-culture references and parodies that you can shake a stick at (I haven't even touched on how cool the animation is - looking sleek and shiny yet also capturing an almost stop-motion feel that perfectly fits the  That winning combo alone would make it one hell of an enjoyable animated film. But beyond that, there is some seriously smart stuff going on in this film. It's a movie that on a micro level looks at how people play with Legos, but on a macro level looks at how we change from children to adults and what we lose in the process. It tells that story and addresses such weighty themes with surprising clarity of purpose and emotional depth. The same kind of pangs you might have felt while watching the Toy Story films are very much present here. Everyone and anyone who was ever, once, a kid playing with Legos will feel an instant sense of recognition while watching this film. And yes, some of that will be surface level - nostalgia for 80's spaceman Legos, etc. But some will come about in those real-world scenes between a father and son, scenes that pit an adult's need for order and logic against a kid's desire for wonderment and imagination and no-limits.

The fact that the movie works on so many levels is a pretty amazing and impressive triumph. I guess it's sort of embodied and encapsulated by the "Everything Is Awesome" song. One one level: uber-catchy pop song. On another level, early in the film: an oppressive hive-mind slave-song - the self-medicated, self-delusional cry of the worker bee. And finally, by the film's end, it morphs into a triumphant rallying cry - a reassurance that everything can and will be okay, even if it's imperfect and unpredictable and chaotic.

And yeah, all of this is in - of all things - The Lego Movie - which might just be the best animated film of the last few years. Who would ever have predicted that?

My Grade: A-

Monday, February 3, 2014

I, FRANKENSTEIN Is Eye-Rollingly Bad


- Every year, usually in January or February, a movie or two comes along that has all the makings of a future cult-classic. It may be a movie that's good-but-weird. It may be a cheesy-but-awesome B-movie. It may be a so-bad-it's-amazing midnight movie. But here's the thing: I, FRANKENSTEIN is none of those things. Nope, not all that is bad is good-bad. Some films are just flat-out terrible, I, FRANKENSTEIN is indeed one of those films. It's horrendous.

I was hoping this would have some redeeming quality, because I'm a big proponent of movies that are unabashedly bat$#%& crazy. And this one is, if anything, pretty much insane. The plot is pretty much something that a really, really nerdy sixth-grader would write, at a point when their literary influences included  the backs of Magic: The Gathering cards and old episodes of Thundercats. The movie uses the classic Frankenstein story - as told in Mary Shelley's novel - as a jumping off point. It then takes Frankenstein's monster and plops him down into some giant war between evil demons and good (but sort of douchey) gargoyles. Yes, this is a movie about a war between demons and gargoyles, where of course totally unawares humans are caught in the middle. As you might already have guessed (?), Frankenstein's monster is the key to the demons' plans for world domination, because he is a sentient creature, yet he has no soul. Thus, he is the perfect vessel for the demons to inhabit and create an earthbound, conquering army. Of course, the demons just need to discover the secret to ol' Doc Frankenstein's reanimation experiments, so that they cap replicate and mass-produce his work.

Now, I love all things Frankenstein. And dammit all, like any red-blooded American guy who grew up with the Gargoyles cartoon, I love me some gargoyles. But I, FRANKENSTEIN is an abject lesson that no matter how cool the various disparate elements of a movie premise may be, that means exactly jack if the writing - and all other aspects of the movie's production - are insultingly stupid.

The writing and plotting here is just groan-inducingly bad. There isn't anything cool, clever, or engrossing about these characters or this story. It can all be pretty-much summed up by this: going in, I was sort of joking with friends about how the movie would probably end with an Aaron Eckhart monologue that was something along the lines of "I ... ____, I ... ____, I ... Frankenstein." I didn't actually expect that the movie would end that way. BUT IT DOES. Sorry, Spoiler Alert.

Speaking of Eckhart, he really brings nothing to this film. The guy is clearly an excellent actor, in general. And you know what, the idea of him as Frankenstein's Monster is, to me, an appealing one. If nothing else, he's got the right look for the part. But he plays this version of the Monster - named Adam - as a sort of emo, personality-lacking brute who would be better suited to the YA version of Shelley's story that will, inevitably, one day be made.

And I just sort of felt bad for poor Yvonne Strahovski. I was rooting for her in this, her first big action-movie part, post-Chuck. On Chuck, she was badass and likable, a mix of beauty, brains, and toughness. The actress was pitch-perfect as a comic book superspy. But here? As a top-shelf, super-genius scientist? Not so much. There's also zero, nada, zilch chemistry between Eckhart and Strahovski, and the script also makes no real attempt to create any real sparks. All I can say is, I hope that Strahovski is able to redeem herself a bit in the upcoming new season of 24.

Bill Nighy, as head demon Naberius, is the only one who seems to have a clue that he should be hamming it up and embracing the movie's silliness. He at least seems to be having fun as the movie's villain, though honestly, the character - as written - is so lame that he can only do so much to make him watchable. The other name actors in the film - from Miranda Otto to Jai Courtney - are totally forgettable.

At least the visuals must be sort of cool, right? Nope, not really. One or two scenes are vaguely interesting from a visual level, but mostly, the action is just a blur of CGI shapes, with barely any sense of scope or epicness. Up close, the gargoyles are admittedly kind of geeky-cool, but the demons look a step below the monsters-of-the-week from an old Buffy episode.

What kills me about I, FRANKENSTEIN is that, despite its midnight movie-ready premise, it takes itself so deathly seriously that there's really no fun to be had. Even Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, while pretty damn bad, had some cheese-value. I, FRANKENSTEIN, in some alternate universe where it doesn't completely suck, is meant to be some sort of huge fantasy epic that spawns sequels with Underworld-esque abandon. But hey, for all their flaws, at least the Underworld flicks had style and cool-factor. I, FRANKENSTEIN is quite simply dorky, in the worst way possible. Bland where it should be chic, boring where it should be exciting, and eye-rollingly bad where it should be campy fun, I, FRANKENSTEIN is every bit as craptacular as its lame-ass title implies.

My Grade: D-

THAT AWKWARD MOMENT Is That Awkward ... Nope, Won't Even Go There


- I think that there's a lot of still-unexplored territory that movies have yet to cover when it comes to modern dating. But THAT AWKWARD MOMENT is not the film that's going to be any sort of definitive statement on modern romance. It's too bad, because this is a rom-com that's got a talented cast, and a willingness to mix gross-out humor with genuine sweetness - Judd Apatow-style - that's admirable. But very little in the film rings true. From the dude-talk that sounds like no conversation I've ever heard between guys, to the of-the-moment social media references that seem shoehorned in and gimmicky, the film feels less like an authentic look at Millennials and more like what a quorum of focus group execs think Millennials might talk and act like.

The film centers around the dating lives of three twenty-something friends in NYC - Jason (Zac Effron), Daniel (Miles Teller), and Mikey (Michael B. Jordan). Jason is a serial non-monogamist with commitment issues, who may have finally met the girl (Imogen Poots) who could convince him to settle down. Daniel is the goofy, would-be player who begins to view his female best-friend (Mackenzie Davis) as something more. Mikey, meanwhile, considers getting back with his cheating ex, blaming himself for her actions.

I have no real opinion of Zac Effron (I'm sure some of you reading this do), but going in, I did have a sense that Teller and Jordan are two of the best and brightest up-and-coming young actors in Hollywood today. Teller really showed some promise in this past summer's Spectacular Now, and Jordan absolutely wowed me in last year's should-have-been-Oscar-nominated Fruitvale Station. And those two help elevate this film beyond what it might have been otherwise. I also really dug it-girl of the moment Poots. She's got charisma and likability to spare, and she worked for me as the kind of girl that Effron's Jason would drop everything to be with.

But some talented and charismatic actors can't save a movie that's saddled with a rambling, unfocused, and just not-that-funny script. Part of the problem is that the movie has only the vaguest ideas of what it's about, and of what it wants to be. There's a very loose, overarching premise here - that the three guys have all mutually agreed to stay single and non-committed (even as each inevitably falls for a girl who they can't stay away from). But the stay-single pact seems to be there just because it is, apparently, obligatory for all movies of this type since American Pie to be centered around a pact. Once we know the pact exists, it's barely referred to again. And that same looseness permeates the entire film. Even though I commended it for its willingness to blend gross-out gags with more heartfelt stuff, I also wish that the blending was more seamless. As it is, the movie is tonally pretty all-over-the-place - and the transitions from serious to silly can be a bit jarring.

Case in point: when a key character's father dies three quarters of the way through the film, it's not particularly emotional or sad - just weird. It comes out of nowhere, and the major character beat is not how sad it is that the father died, but instead, how Effron's character can't decide how awkward it would or wouldn't be to go to the funeral. And all of this is presented in a fairly tone-dead manner. The movie doesn't realize how callous it seems in that moment (that oh-so awkward moment - yeah, I went there). And it doesn't seem to realize a lot of things ...

Like the fact that, despite being played by likable actors, the main characters here - who we're supposed to root for and empathize with - come off as chauvinistic d-bags (even by typical bro-standards).

Like the fact that the characters are at once presented as regular-guy every-men, yet also come off as privileged, whiny, entitled guys for whom dating and romance comes *way* too easily. Clearly, there's something wrong when Effron's model-bedding Don Juan - whose main problem is that he isn't sure if he should become a one-woman-man with the stunning Imogen Poots - is also portrayed as just a regular everyday bro, dudes.

Like the fact that the movie presents things like, you know, death, with all the sentimentality of a brick wall - yet treats us to sappy voiceover narration from Effron.

Like the fact that Poots feels too good for Effron's character, and Davis too good for Teller's. Their major compatibility test is that both characters exist and are attractive.

Guys like John Hughes, Harold Ramis, and Judd Apatow have been able to make these sorts of movies work because while their movies had models and prom queens, their sympathies always lay with the underdogs. The guys and gals who are funny, who we genuinely root for, who all of us can, in some way, relate to. To mix CW aesthetics with would-be Apatowian humor and heart is not the greatest of combos, and it dooms THAT AWKWARD MOMENT to blandness, and leaves it with an offputting sense of calculated coldness.

My Grade: C-