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Goofy, absurd 'He's All That' lacks the right moves

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Posted at 11:59 AM, Aug 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-27 11:59:29-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — If you were a teen in the 1990s, you no doubt grew up with the famous prom dance-off in "She's All That," in which Usher orchestrates the teens into a spontaneous explosion of coordinated movement to the beat of Fatboy Slim's "The Rockafeller Skank."

The audacious explosion of magical realism was lightning in a bottle that just can't be recaptured. And boy, does "He's All That" try.

The sequel to the seminal 1999 teen comedy tries to recreate that brilliance but is as awkward and stilted as a high school reunion.

The movie debuts on Netflix Friday.

The story is a twist on the "Can't Buy Me Love" premise. TikTok star Addison Rae plays Padgett, who's not only the most popular girl at school but the most popular girl at any school.

She is a self-obsessed social media influencer who pulls in more money than her single mother (Rachael Leigh Cook).

After an embarrassing viral incident, Padgett needs a confidence boost to get her fame back on track. She makes a bet with a friend that her influence and makeover skills can turn anyone into the prom king -- even lowly social outcast Cameron, played by Tanner Buchanan of "Cobra Kai."

The silly, over-the-top tone has little connection to reality and more than a little elitist tone-deafness. All of that would have been forgivable if at least a little touch of humor or romance. The film's tone, though, is as hollow and inconsequential as an Instagram story.

A pair of cast members from the original film -- Cook and Matthew Lillard -- pop in for extended cameos, but their appearances are more forced and sad than nostalgic.

The film marks a low point for director Mark Waters, who struggles to regain his level of teen comedy mastery in "Freaky Friday" and "Mean Girls."

Waters seems to have trouble reining in his cast. The acting is a mixed bag of spirited and stilted performances. With everyone working with a tepid script, delivery and enthusiasm go a long way toward making things presentable.

Surprisingly, it's Rae -- the one with the last acting experience -- who turns in the most illuminating performance, setting the stage for a transition to movie fame.

If "He's All That" serves any purpose, it's to redirect your attention to the original, which is sitting there patiently, hoping you tap it on the shoulder and invite it to the dance.

RATING: 2 stars out of 4.

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