Enslaved to the tried-and-true, Hollywood's recycling crews are always on the job -- clone freaks! -- churning out duplicates, counterfeits, mockeries and simulations with the dedication of Xerox machines. This just in: the copy is rarely as clear as the original.
In the case of Freaky Friday redux, the new generation of teen Starburst-chewers is getting shortchanged. Try as they might, Jamie Lee Curtis, as a suburban mom who eventually finds herself in school detention, and the young soap opera star Lindsay Lohan, as a dewy sophomore who winds up listening to the ravings of Mom's psychiatric patients, never quite turn the trick. Thanks to experience, Curtis-as-teenager comes off a bit better than Lohan-as-adult, but the plumbing, wiring and carpentry show throughout. There's so much effort to convince us of the switch in this hour and a half that we soon weary of it. Don't believe me? The bright-eyed twelve-year-old I sat next to at a screening offered her own capsule review as the final credits rolled: "She wasn't really the mom. Whatever."
Yeah. Whatever. When Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster starred as the body-snatching mother and daughter in the 1976 version of Freaky Friday, the talented stars reproduced each others' quirks, tics and traits with such playful accuracy that the movie soon lifted on a fine cloud of fantasy. They were like a pair of good jazz musicians chasing each other through eight-bar exchanges, borrowing references, reinventing just-heard phrases, paying homage. Alas, there's no such magic in the remake.
Herewith, some shreds of plot and a hint of the family values to be learned.
Pretty Anna Coleman, fifteen, has just gotten an "F" on her paper about George Orwell, a New Boy in School named Jake (Chad Michael Murray) has caught her eye, and her mostly-girl garage band (Pink Slip, nice name) is a lot more talented than non-Hollywood garage bands. Happy, our Anna? Well, not really. Dad is dead. Her psychiatrist mother Tess is about to get remarried to a virtual stranger named Ryan (a thankless task for bland actor Mark Harmon) and, what's worse, Mom really doesn't understand anything about Anna at this point -- her music, her clothes, her innermost yearnings, her opinions on George Orwell. Little brother Harry (Ryan Malgarini) is a pest, hard-of-hearing Grandpa (Harold Gould) is on the edge of dementia, and a catty school rival (Julie Gonzalo, blonde to a fault) who was once Anna's best friend now head-hunts her in volleyball games.
In other words, familiar teen trauma abounds, and before there can be awakening, there must be an intimate exchange of views. Presto. After their plates of kung pao chicken, mother and daughter are slipped a pair of magic fortune cookies by a Chinese sorceress. Next morning they are, to their mutual horror, physically The Other.
Working from Mary Rodgers' vintage best-seller, screenwriters Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon then spoon on the out-of-body comedy, such as it is -- Anna-as-Mom letting fly the freshest teen lingo and gleefully scorching Mom's platinum card in the local boutiques; Mom-as-Anna delivering a cogent analysis of Hamlet in sophomore English class and getting slapped down for "over-reaching"; the poor, bewildered fiancé putting moves on his beloved, only to be rebuffed by the terrified object of his affections. And here's a neat bow to the perverse -- sixteen-year-old Jake, snowed by the barely disguised Anna inside Mom, falls for her -- the 45-year-old packaging be damned. In the end, we get dueling events -- a rehearsal dinner and a rock band audition, in which the displaced persons try to fake it one more time before changing back.
The results are tepid and flat. The most-wanted outcome, of course -- the outcome writers and director have been shooting for all along -- is empathy. Having lived insider each other's skins, Anna and Tess see and feel each other anew. In the fantasy of body-switching, we get the message, loud and clear. For a troubled teen and a bewildered parent to understand, really understand, they must walk in each other's shoes, feel the beat of the other's heart.
Fine, all fine. But when Harris and Foster played the job, it sang. This Freaky Friday comes up tuneless, despite the hits-to-be on the soundtrack.