Sometimes films based entirely on medium-strength flashes in pop culture's pan come along, asking for your time. Almost without exception these are movies that stake their flag on a disintegrating hill. That's how we wind up with Roller Boogie (disco music plus roller-skating), Heavenly Bodies (competetive aerobics), The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (see title). And then we have those films forever, baffling -- yet still oddly valuable -- objects as lessons in junk-film history.
But the flashes are getting smaller and, somehow, even less resonant. Now it's enough if your movie is named after something that was popular for a moment on the internet, like LOL, the Miley Cyrus-starring remake of a French film with the same title, for example, or this male-centered romantic comedy that's barely about awkward moments but that takes its meaningless name from a tepid little internet meme. It could be called anything, really, and would perhaps be more accurately known as Dudes Can Do Anything They Want And It's OK. Based on what does down in its hundred minutes, that's what it's really about anyway.
Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller are three twentysomething bros in Manhattan (shockingly large, art-filled apartments borrowed from the cast of Friends) who decide to remain single. They're very young so they think themselves bold for coming up with this. And their pact, fittingly, features all the formality and gravity attending a decision made at a street corner holding paper cups from Starbucks. Jordan's a doctor whose wife (Jessica Lucas) is banging a new guy and wants a divorce, Teller is falling for his rich-girl pal (Mackenzie Davis) and Efron hooks up and discards a new co-worker (Imogen Poots) before realizing he's actually smitten. So many knotty problems. Sure hope male privilege hasn't taken the day off or else this could get complicated.
Oh good, it's still on the clock. That's why Teller and Efron, the world's laziest "chick-lit" book cover designers, manage to work wizard-magic on every single woman at their in-house publishing job by talking about Louboutins in a pitch meeting. The women nod their heads, smirking knowingly, tingling deep down in their lady-zones that a scruffy, handsome man has their number with the whole shoe-lust thing. "I love it," says their tough, female boss.
And that's why these men can use women as props in their hijinks and prostitute-based misunderstandings and not experience anything resembling a consequence. That's why they can go to their love-target's job and wreak havoc and come away from it smiling. That's why they can attend a party with a dildo hanging out of their pants (one purchased from a New York City sex shop that allows haggling) and turn everyone there into their fan because they're so wacky. That's why they can free-spiritedly steal property from a house a real estate agent is showing them and never feel the heat of the law.
It's also why this film can be lazy with comedy and logic and humanity. It can make tired dick jokes -- there are never enough of those, just ask Last Vegas -- and equate a childless marriage with failure and, later, demand the audience take the flimsy pact seriously as a cry for men's bonding. ("I want my friends back together," pleads Efron, nearing what would love to pass for a third act moment of heft; one problem, though, when were you apart?)
That's why it can play Backwards Day with every emotion it attempts to tackle. That's why it can freely get everything wrong -- women, men, relationships, jobs, apartments, sex toys, literary fiction, Thanksgiving, urination -- and still believe itself charming. That's why no fewer than five first-draft-quality scenes where characters simply wrap up the dispute by calling each other "idiot" are allowed to remain in the finished product. For the record, here are those lines of dialogue: "Idiot!" and "You're an idiot." and "You're a f@#*%*! idiot." and "Right, idiot." and "You're such an idiot."
And that's why it's being released, cynically, on Super Bowl weekend, counterprogramming to insult its audience, still in total command. LOL, I think they used to say.