Netflix has decided that what the romantic comedy genre needs is another “THIS time I get it RIGHT” fantasy farce, this one starring Adam Devine.
“When We First Met” is built around a guy’s grief over losing Ms. Right, grief h recovers from by time traveling to earn that magic “reset.” And Devine? He gets to play his abrasive Jack Black Lite thing — singing, funny voices, more music, hapless around women, kind of a jerk.
Noah (Devine) met Avery (Alexandra Daddario of “Baywatch”) on Halloween three years ago. It was a star-crossed night, and he cannot stop thinking about it and drinking himself sick over it at an engagement party — hers. She’s marrying Ethan (Robbie Amell).
“Ethan has nothing on me.”
“He kinda does,” her BFF Carrie (Shelley Hennig, of “Ouija” and “Unfriended,” caustic and funny) says. “He’s like the nicest guy ever.”
“He’s like, ‘Mormon Nice.'”
It takes a bit more drinking, with Carrie and his Noah’s BFF Max (Andrew Bachelor) for the story to gain clarity. Noah and Avery met at a Halloween party. She was Geena Davis in “A League of Their Own.” He was Garth from “Wayne’s World.”
“The key to doing a really good Garth impression is to make your mouth into a tiny little butthole!”
They chat and chat and chat, “Do you like jazz?” “Do I like BREATHING?” He gets her life story, she gets to hear him play piano at a jazz bar where he works. They even hit the photo booth. A Cookie Crisps binge, foosball and in the end of this adorable night to remember, she hits him with a “You’re cute.” Her “you’re cute” he turns into “this might’ve been.”
Can you say “Friend Zone?”
But when he wakes up, it’s the wrong day and year. It’s Halloween, 2014. Again. Before he can finish sprinting/singing “Goin’ back, back back in tiiiiime,” we realize what he’s really hoping for is “Groundhog Day,” a chance to manipulate events more to his advantage this time around.
So he does. So he’s got to get back to that photo booth. That first attempt at getting ahead of the game, knowing all the right things to say to this stranger still dressed in her “League” uniform, has him changing costumes, learning a Count Basie tune to impress her, etc.
He replays the phone booth game…hard.
Will this turn things to his advantage, let Noah skip past “the friend zone” this time around? What’s your best guess?
As bad as things were, they can only get worse. But if you like seeing Adam Devine get pummelled, well you know where to go.
He wakes up with another shot, just like “Groundhog Day.” What does Noah have to “learn” over the course of these assorted attempts to be the sort of “guy Avery wants to be with?”
I’ve seen “Groundhog Day” recently, so I appreciated the attempted journey from whiney and self-absorbed to jerk to kindness, from Garth in “Wayne’s World” to James Bond to…
Devine wanly attempts a played-out drunk scene, and even though I’ve never found him more than irritating in “Pitch Perfect,” “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates” or the grating “Game Over, Man,” he performs this variation on “Groundhog’s” journey of personal discovery with verve.
Alternate futures with business success (but no more jazz), as a douchebag version of himself or a plump sell-out workaholic variation at least hold the attention. It’s still not really all that funny, I have to say. Except for discovering that he’s fluent in Chinese in one of these variations. The “I guess I DON’T know how to play the piano” version isn’t even close to amusing.
Why do people go to weddings or engagement parties of lovers/crushes they never got over? It seems to happen a lot…in the movies. There’s much more than just that in “When We First Met” that has the ring of the familiar, that reminds us we’re seeing an inferior unfunnier copy.
Devine, like Adam Sandler, has hitched his cinematic wagon to Netflix, and they have done likewise with him. But as ready as the Jack Black comparison (musical, plump, tries too hard) might be, it’s only mean because it’s accurate.
He’s less irritating here, a little charm shows through, which doesn’t save the movie but gives it a perfectly sweet aftertaste.
And even if you don’t review movies for a living you should know where this is going right around the midway point. If not, you’re sentenced to spend a weekend on Netflix, watching “Groundhog Day” and “Before I Fall” and maybe “It’s a Wonderful Life,” for good measure.
MPAA Rating: TV-14
Running time: 1:38