Netflixable? Rom-com reminds us to be mindful of that “First Impression”

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“First Impression” is an “online dating” rom-com from back when those were totally a thing. It was on BET back in 2015, and is “new” to Netflix and trending now, so I took a look.

It’s a soggy, sparkle-free/laugh-impaired comedy about the difference between one’s online “dating” identity and reality.

You shave 10 (or say, 23) years off your age, gild the lily of what you do and how rich and/or interesting you are and boom — the person you meet for that first date is just as surprised as you are.

Because they’re lying, too.

Vernon (Lamman Rucker) is newly unemployed, spending all his time tapping out a steamy, sexy crime novel, whose scenes are acted out (rather dully) in his head as he taps the keys.

The time he doesn’t spend dreaming up situations violent or sexual between Tropical Storm and Scorpion Kiss (his characters) he spends on the First Impression dating site.

He ignores his pal Julius (Kendrick Cross, not bad) and his “five phases of poverty” warnings. “Phase three, when you run out of gas all over town.”

“Wait! What was Phase 1?”

“LOSING your JOB.”

Imani (oft-employed character actress Lisa Arendell) is with Atlanta’s only African American publishing house. She, too, is trying out First Impression.

Regis Le’Bron’s script takes its sweet time throwing these two together — a montage of Imani’s disastrous first encounters with dating match-ups, Vernon’s various phases of poverty.

There’s an unnecessary and undeveloped side story about an employee of the publishing house (Tamela J. Mann) trying to get her pastor (David Mann) published as a poet and interested as a suitor.

All of which gets in the way of a perfectly charming accidental meeting between well-heeled Imani and broke-ass Vernon in the jazz club. What they don’t realize is they’ve been flirting up a storm online, already.

I like the broke tricks for how to look like you as if have a drink in a bar when you don’t have money to buy a drink in a bar.

Imani starts by picking up the tab, and is just forward enough in encouraging the guy with the late model Nissan with the racing stripes, who accidentally impresses her by bringing a Moonpie to a romantic picnic (also cheap).

She’s in Alpharetta. He’s in “the hood.” It’ll never work out, right?

The big gag here is that they’re flirting with each other in person, and unknowingly coming on to each other’s online avatars at the same time.

Cheat-flirting is totally a thing.

The locations are modestly budgeted, the gags even cheaper — a fart joke, an overly elaborate African American handshake, a “Boy? Bye!” and zingers — “Man, you sound like Forrest Gump!” — without a punchline.

‘Going ‘dutch’ on a Moonpie?”

Le’Bron seems most interested in keeping all this PG than giving it the sparks that come from having friction, an edge and script-imposed “chemistry.”

Director Arthur Muhammad is quite clumsy in introducing the Vernon’s flashes to his novel-in-progress’s character (Brad James) dealing with the same come-ons from a femme fatale (Laila Odom) Vernon is picking up on from Imani.

The leads are OK, but there’s not a lot of chemistry. The best friends scenes have potential, but are abandoned too quickly.

I’ve seen worse romantic comedies, but you’d think 500 years after Shakespeare the “rom com with mistaken identities” would have finally run its course. “First Impression” certainly makes that case.

1half-star

MPAA Rating: unrated

Cast: Lisa Arrindell, Lamman Rucker, Elise Neal, Kendrick Cross, Tamala J. Mann

Credits: Directed by Arthur Muhammad, script by Regis Le’Bron.   A BET/Netflix release

Running time: 1:36

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