Silver Screen: That Awkward Moment 1/2*

Silver Screen: That Awkward Moment  1/2*
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The Monuments Men tries to make the case that art is essential and worth dying for. The dude-centric
Bryan Miller

The Monuments Men tries to make the case that art is essential and worth dying for. The dude-centric romantic comedy That Awkward Moment unintentionally makes the counter-argument and suggests maybe we should all just go outside and stare at the clouds or something.

This atrocious hodgepodge of filched comedy tropes has the distinction of being 2014’s first truly awful movie. Like The Monuments Men, it features a solid core of actors, albeit much younger, but here these guys are on a suicide mission in an effort to save an unredeemable script.

Miles Teller is fresh off The Spectacular Now, Michael B. Jordan was considered a possible Oscar contender for his work in Fruitvale Station, and Zac Efron is a talented entertainer despite literally never once appearing in a decent movie. (No kidding, check out his résumé. It’s bleak.) Here these three promising young performers endure an endless series of walking-and-drinking-coffee montages as they blather about their relationship problems, which mostly consist of an overabundance of stick-skinny white girls who want to sleep with them. Reduced to its essence, the non-conflict that drives the movie, or rather fails to drive it, goes something like this: Three bros vow to stay single and just be bros together, but all these hot chicks wanna bang, which causes the three bros to lie to each other about the banging, but then they realize that can bang and still be bros and they all lived happily ever after the end.

Bro Number One, the default alpha Bro, is Jason (Efron), one-half of an improbably successful duo of art directors who design book jackets for a publishing company. The other half of the team is Bro Number Two, Daniel (Teller), a fast-talking bro whose quick wit helps him maintain his “roster,” a lineup of rotating bang-buddies he keeps casual so none of them actually want to date.

Bro Number Three is Mikey (Jordan), the bros’ bro from college, back in their heydays when they had no responsibilities to inhibit their bro-dom. Med student Mikey made the crucial mistake of marrying his school sweetheart Vera (Jessica Lucas), who has subsequently left him and robbed him of his masculinity. Now Mikey mopes, eats ice cream, and just wants to lay low with the bros rather than go out bro-ing to get laid.

Jason and Daniel make a pact not to get girlfriends so they can enjoy the single life with Mikey. Then Jason meets Ellie, a real bro’s broad who loves Scotch, videogames, and bangin’. They start getting serious, at least until Jason decides it’s a little too serious and stands her up at her father’s funeral to send a message that everything’s just casual, as bros are wont to do. Daniel, meanwhile, realizes that the exceptionally attractive girl he’s been friends with for years is actually someone he might like to bang. Even worse, Mikey starts hooking up with Vera, who’s having second thoughts about their impending divorce. Dude! Bro?

That Awkward Moment derives its title from an internet meme that’s already run its course (that awkward moment when you realize no one is making that awkward moment jokes anymore). It derives everything else from various successful pop-culture franchises of the last decade, most notably Sex and the City, which is both its aesthetic and structural model. Every time the bros get up from their table at a diner or coffee shop to carry their inane, stiff conversations outside, I kept expecting to see Carrie and Charlotte waiting to take their table. Writer/director Tom Gormican, making his feature debut and also hopefully his swan song, borrows a bit from Farrelly-style grossout gags and puts his actors through some painfully inert Apatowian riffing, the latter of which is so poorly edited that the scene in question plays like a never-finished DVD extra.

The only redeeming factor in That Awkward Moment is the cast, specifically the male cast, as each of the women is indistinguishable from the next and seemingly constructed like a best-possible-case Okay Cupid profile. Efron is a natural charmer, but he’s not good enough to rise beyond the level of whatever script he’s working with, which here dooms him. Jordan was phenomenal in Fruitvale Station and, before that, on The Wire and Friday Night Lights, but he proves more adept with drama than comedy. Only Teller emerges unscathed. He has the most enticing, least demanding role as the resident smartass, and he’s the only one of the three who can get through the wooden dialogue without tripping over it. Teller even manages to wring a few laughs out of the material. That bodes well for his career, which shouldn’t include many more clunkers like this one.

Bro, if this movie was a chick, I’d say don’t even hit that.

Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.