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'Moment' less than skillful as comedy

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‘That Awkward Moment'

★★ (out of 4)

R

Wide release

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By Roger Moore
Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
 

“So” is how “That Awkward Moment” begins every “awkward moment.” As in “So, what are we doing here?” Or “So, where do you see this relationship going?”

That's the dating man's lesson of “That Awkward Moment,” that “For girls, nothing good ever comes after ‘So.' ” It's a chatty romantic comedy in the modern mode — rude, nude and crude — with some funny, writerly riffs on relationships and how to avoid them.

There are laughs, in the lead couple's “meet cute” moment in a bar, when she (Imogen Poots) trots out that fortune-telling trick common to sex-obsessed sitcoms: rebuffing a suitor by forecasting an entire failed relationship based on how a guy is dressed, the manner of his approach and his lame pick-up line.

But the movie, like star Zac Efron and writer-director Tom Gormican, never lets us forget that it's trying too hard, straining to spit out sexy, silly patter.

Efron, Miles Teller (“The Spectacular Now”) and Michael B. Jordan (“Fruitvale Station”) play three New York pals who vow, when the doctor of the trio (played by Jordan) is dumped by his wife, to stay single and enjoy the mingling. Together, they will build “a roster” of booty calls. And the moment a woman starts “the talk” with “So,” they'll bail. That's the plan.

Which all of them ignore. Jason (Efron), a smart-aleck designer of book covers, falls for this cute one-night-stand, Ellie (Poots), who works for a publishing house. The hilarious chatterbox Daniel (Teller) starts to realize that his gorgeous, able-bodied lady wingman (Mackenzie Davis) is all the woman he'd ever need.

And Mikey (Jordan) clings to the hope that his cheating lawyer wife (Jessica Lucas) will hear his reasoned, “We checked off all the boxes” appeal to maintain their partnership masquerading as a marriage.

“That Awkward Moment” is a writers comedy, and it's easy to see why this cast was drawn to Gormican's script.

Efron never quite holds his own with the much-funnier Teller, whose swagger and confidence always seem to be compensating for his awareness that he's nobody's idea of a hunk. Poots, a British actress whose real accent only pops up in the outtakes at the end, is game but never quite achieves “You had me at ‘hello.' ” Jordan has few demands made on him, dramatically.

“That Awkward Moment” is overfamiliar, a movie that plays like recycled, R-rated outtakes from “Rules of Engagement” or “How I Met Your Mother.”

Roger Moore is a staff writer for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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