Early in “That Awkward Moment,” a new romantic comedy that is hard to completely hate, the three mid-20s male leads vow to remain single together, to play the field before settling down. Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) is a doctor whose soon-to-be ex-wife cuckolded him, and his best graphic-designer friends Daniel (Miles Teller) and Jason (Zac Efron) aim to wingman him out of his doldrums. Their New York single life is an Xbox-and-whiskey version of “Sex and the City” where every bar is stuffed with young single ladies wandering around, only a wry quip away from tumbling into bed.
With a solid year of horndoggery and an occasional shot of penicillin, they could no doubt have cut a swath of destruction through SoHo. But trouble arrives almost immediately as they discover they have, like, feelings. Mikey patches things up with his wife — physically, anyway. The wisecracking Daniel starts to see his gal pal (Mackenzie Davis) as something more than a drinking sidekick. And Jason bumbles across a keen budding author named Ellie (Imogen Poots, the best performer in the film) who fully captures his admittedly limited imagination.
Gentlemen, be warned: They have smuggled a chick flick into your man-cave docudrama. Tom Gormican writes and directs, debuting on both counts, and almost succeeds in splitting this baby. The casual insults (you’ll lose count of how many times “idiot” is bandied around) and the casual sex point to a potential frat-house favorite.
But behind the attempted machismo this is, a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day, decidedly a date movie, and for every moment of supposed bro-on-bro humor, the lovesick trio will ultimately fall quite shy of behaving like total jackals. To settle any question of the target audience: You will see no bare lady parts in “That Awkard Moment,” but you’ll leave with full visual confirmation of Zac Efron’s abs and tuckus.
In surer hands, this might’ve been a passable young-love comedy. Instead, it goes soft on us and then shuffles around looking for a way out. The score is relentlessly maudlin, straight out of an afternoon teen soap. The climax is unrepentant schlock that plays like Gormican lost a bet somewhere along the line.
But, weirdly, there are some smiles lurking around this brisk 94 minutes. Several, in fact. Efron and Poots have some chemistry. So do Teller and Davis as a couple that never meant to become a couple. (Teller is funny throughout, actually. With such perfectly average looks, you know he must have a brain tucked away.)
There’s enough charm to the movie’s underlying sweetness that it’ll sucker you in, just a whit. And there’s a novelty to watching young men grapple with an honest problem that finds most people at some point: whether to stay with a very good thing or go off in search of something better, knowing that you’re bound to find something different, in any case. For all its quick-fix sex, “That Awkward Moment” at least has the sense to recognize that short-term dating is a certain kind of hell that most sane people abandon at their first reasonable opportunity.