“That Awkward Moment” turns out to be unfortunately aptly named, not for mining a rich vein of social and romantic anthropology, as the filmmakers obviously intended to do, but for so clunkily stringing together callow, predictable scenes from rom-coms past.
Actually, make that brom-coms: In this male-centric version of glossy wish fulfillment, Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan take center stage as three 20-ish Manhattan professionals who, early in the film, vow to stay single and bro-out together while they still can. The ringleader, a serial one-night-stander named Jason (Efron), explains to the far more domesticated Michael (Jordan) that he needs to build a “roster.” That is, a list of women who can be called, texted or sexted at any hour for a late-night booty call or other form of adult sleepover.
What passes for frank and timely social observation in “That Awkward Moment” has less to do with edgy honesty (e.g. Adam on “Girls”) than a shallow, derivative re-tread (er, “Sexism in the City”?). Trying to fuse the raunch and ribaldry of Judd Apatow with the aspirational feel-goodism of the movies Matthew McConaughey no longer makes, first-time writer-director Tom Gormican succeeds only in delivering a long-form sitcom of verbal and behavioral cliches, from a running scatological joke featuring Teller’s character to a duo of unsavory sight gags involving Efron’s anatomy, both real and outlandishly artificial. All is supposed to be forgiven in the course of an anticlimactic come-to-Cupid speech in which his caddish protagonist (please don’t call him a hero) realizes what relationships are all about.
With their chirpy, pseudo-hip banter and super-designed faux-downscale apartments, the men of “That Awkward Moment” rarely convince viewers that they’re more than obnoxious, entitled brats, running amok in the big city with way too much disposable time, income and healthy liver enzymes at their disposal. Admittedly, Michael proves a sensitive, soft-spoken exception in a group that includes a female wingman (Mackenzie Davis) who can drink and swear and sweet-talk ladies with the best — or worst — of the laddies.
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The chief frustration of “That Awkward Moment” is that everyone in it is so much better than the material: Efron, an acting, singing and dancing triple threat, here squanders his charm, evoking fond memories of the “High School Musical” movies and “17 Again.” Teller and Jordan may not be as well known (yet), but to get a sense of the prodigious gifts they possess, check out their astonishingly good performances in last year’s “The Spectacular Now” and “Fruitvale Station,” respectively.
For their part, Davis and Imogen Poots — who plays a woman so ideal that she’s smart and pretty and likes Scotch and Xbox — clearly have promising careers ahead of them after this coarse, contemptuous digression. The best thing about awkward moments, after all, is that they usually pass quickly. And, blessedly, just as swiftly forgotten.