By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
Promising young careers take a bumpy detour in That Awkward Moment, which is the kind of movie that can push an actor back from the cusp of stardom.
Not for long, though. The three young stars biding time in Tom Gormican's listless rom-com are too gifted for one mediocre movie to bury.
Former Citrus County resident Miles Teller's performances in The Spectacular Now and the recent Sundance winner Whiplash place him among Hollywood's brightest new stars. Michael B. Jordan joined that list around the same time, playing the doomed hero of Fruitvale Station. Zac Efron was bred as a Disney let's-put-on-a-show pony but check out At Any Price or even a dog like The Paperboy for a talent striving to mature.
None of them needs That Awkward Moment at this time in their lives.
Gormican, whose only previous screen credit is co-producing last year's abysmal Movie 43, claims in interviews that his movie is inspired by William Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost, in which case the Bard should sue for defamation of his characters. Like the play, That Awkward Moment has three words in its title, and a story of three bachelors taking a vow to remain single and not sticking to it. We can all agree that Shakespeare didn't have booty calls, horizontal position urination and enormous sex toys in mind.
Efron is the lead dog Jason, a book cover designer — you can judge by them, he insists — and serial seducer until meeting Ellie (Imogen Poots), whom he "hilariously" confuses for a prostitute. Teller makes good use of his innate bro-ness as Daniel, whose pick-up strategy involves using a wing-woman named Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis) with friendship benefits making him reconsider his buddy vow. Jordan's Mikey inspired the pledge when his wife, Vera (Jessica Lucas), walked out but he's holding on for reconciliation.
The best jokes in That Awkward Moment are obviously improvised, an impression reinforced by the end credits outtakes reel, a tell-tale sign of comedy desperation since Cannonball Run. Teller is the cast member with the best chops for spontaneously contributing; everyone else often appears embarrassed by what they're doing and saying. Not that the material is daring, or even funny in a shocking way. Characters simply do whatever it takes for the movie to proceed.
In the end, the disappointment of That Awkward Moment is just a speed bump to success. Teller has four movies being released in 2014 including Whiplash and the fantasy franchise starter Divergent. Jordan is gearing up to play Johnny Storm in a Fantastic Four reboot (with Teller rumored to join him). Efron has the frat house comedy Neighbors with Seth Rogen ready for theaters. There's too much on the horizon for them — or us — to dwell on one awkward movie.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.