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REVIEW: 'That Awkward Moment' ★★

MoviesFruitvale StationJonah HillThe Spectacular Now (movie)The Wire (tv program)

More grating than peppy, the Manhattan-set romantic comedy "That Awkward Moment" proceeds as a series of awkward moments in search of a premise and a protagonist a little less stupid.

Zac Efron bed-hops around as writer-director Tom Gormican's narrator/hero. He's a graphic designer whose life is one long hookup interrupted by beers and shots and trash-talk and Xbox with guy friends. This lady-killer, meant to be fetchingly blase on the surface and a fine fellow underneath, comes off like such a pluperfect egotist, you find yourself rooting for everyone but him.

The casting exacerbates matters. The film stars Efron and co-stars several other youngish performers more interesting and wittier than Efron. We could start that list with Mackenzie Davis, a genuine talent with unpredictable comic timing and a self-effacing quality. We could move on to Miles Teller (demeanor of a Cusack, voice like Jonah Hill, but with his own thing), lately of "The Spectacular Now." Or to Michael B. Jordan of "The Wire" and "Fruitvale Station," stuck playing a neutered tag-along to his horn-dog pals. Or to Imogen Poots, the woman who shakes Efron's character out of his arrested adolescence.

Gormican's gimmick goes like this. When Mikey, the Jordan character, gets dumped by his wife, Jason (Efron) and Daniel (Teller) make a vow with Mikey to stay single and horn-doggy forever. No serious relationships! But they all start falling for their respective special someones and then go to aggravating lengths to hide the fact they're falling. The women are doormats, waiting for the men to grow up, or not.

It's nice to see a movie in love with New York City, but "That Awkward Moment" sets such a low bar for Jason's redemption it becomes a drag. When Jason hits rock bottom, emotionally speaking, he fails to show up at his sort-of-girlfriend's father's funeral. Efron does his limited, earnest best to activate the drama inside the comedy, while everybody else practices their throwaway technique. The best scenes belong to Davis and Teller; they're loose and truthfully awkward, as opposed to artificially so.

mjphillips@tribune.com

"That Awkward Moment" - 2 stars

MPAA rating: R (for sexual content and language throughout)

Running time: 1:34

Opens: Friday

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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