2 stars (out of 4)
Jamie Lee Curtis can still be a sensational, sexy comedian. And she proves it again in, of all movies, "Freaky Friday."
The movie itself isn't much at least without her. An uninspired remake of the 1977 Disney comedy which had Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster as the mother-daughter-team who switch bodies one hectic Friday it's a likable but flimsy retread that's barely worth the effort. Director Mark Waters (who made the arch satire, "The House of Yes"), and writers Heather Hach and Lesley Dixon ("Outrageous Fortune") haven't come up with interesting new ideas for the original body-swap fantasy and, for the first 20 minutes or so, the film is pretty bad: coy, loud and obnoxious. But, after the switch scene. Curtis makes her scenes crackle; her acting charges up this weak, sometimes silly movie.
Playing Tess Coleman, a control freak California psychiatrist and single mom who swaps bods for a day with her self-indulgent 14-year-old garage-rocker daughter Anna (played by Lindsay Lohan), Curtis gives a lively, flirty, exhilaratingly goofy performance that really manages to suggest a woman with the soul of a teenager. "Freaky Friday" needs her; it has a story that's always in danger of the terminal cutes. In this variation, Tess and Anna are a squabbling mother and daughter who both face crises come Friday. Compulsive, orderly Tess has a wedding rehearsal for her upcoming nuptials with straight-arrow nice-guy boyfriend Ryan (Mark Harmon) and Anna, a lippy little hellion who has a crush on classmate Jake (Chad Michael Murray) and a nerdy nemesis English teacher (Stephen Tobolowsky) is frantically preparing for her Friday band audition with her rockmates. When mom and daughter suddenly and unknowingly switch bodies, it's thanks to a devilish fortune cookie prank by Pei-Pei's Mother (Lucille Soong), the elderly matriarch at a local Chinese restaurant run by her daughter, Pei-Pei (Rosalind Chao). That's when everything goes engagingly haywire and the movie, up to then a real dog, suddenly gets half-good. The hitherto ultra-organized Tess dresses sexy, chases Jake and drives Ryan to distraction. Anna becomes so straight and sensible, and unable to rock, that her band gig and love life are both jeopardized.
"Freaky Friday" eventually builds up to a double paroxysm at the wedding rehearsal and the rock band contest that's corny and predictable, but lightly amusing. The third Disney movie from Mary Rodgers' 1972 teen fantasy novel best known for that 1977 Harris-Foster version, which came out a year after Foster's scorching run as teen hooker Iris in "Taxi Driver" "Freaky Friday" starts off as if it were concocted and designed in inflated-sitcom hell.
The settings are too glossy, the story too silly and the acting too punchy and loud. Co-star Lohan, veteran of another Disney Studio remake, "The Parent Trap," overplays her first part as rebellious Anna, making her an unconvincingly bratty hellion. Since Lohan is supposed to be the magnet for the core teen girl audience the movie wants, it's odd that she's unconvincing as a teenager and that she's so much better as the sensible Anna, possessed by her adult mom.
The moviemakers lay everything on with a Beverly Hills trowel: the huge suburban house where Tess and Anna live with dotty Grandpa (Harold Gould) and smart-aleck little brother Harry (Ryan Malgarini) who has that overblown, over-sunny look of a radically overblown sitcom movie like "Leave It To Beaver." The actors are too frenzied, the jokes too dopey and the movie even manages to misuse that oft-used surefire rocker, "Happy Together:" skipping from The Turtles' version to Simple Plan's without ever giving us the great ecstatic release of The Turtles' original chorus.
But Curtis, who replaced Annette Bening in this role in the last minute, plays the Anna-inhabited mom with such zest, she wins us over anyway. As in "Trading Places" and "A Fish Called Wanda," she burns up the screen: a breezy, knockout clown trapped in one more smarmy Disney comedy. "Freaky Friday" commits a lot of sins; luckily, it has Curtis and a few others to cover them up.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun