Sure, she’s a bit rusty. But even in her post “Cats” despair, Rebel Wilson should’ve known that 113 minutes of her going back to high school was never going to fly.
Here’s the test that will tell you whether or not you like Wilson’s comatose-for-20-years-cheerleader-goes-back for “Senior Year” to achieve ‘my dream life’ comedy. Laugh at this speech, delivered by the “woke” influencer Bri Luvs (Jade Bender).
“I don’t really think about ‘popularity.’ I’m just trying to build my most authentic, socially-conscious, body-positive, environmentally-aware and economically compassionate brand.”
Guffaws? Giggles? Titters? Anyone? Anyone?
That’s the tone of this ham-fisted three-screenwriter’d bore, lots of attempts at showing how “cool” or “cruel” things were “back then,” followed by even more slaps at how PC things are now, without the movie or any character in it actually taking a stand for either position.
And in the middle of a all is Wilson, who’s had a run of stinkers — not just “Cats” — making the sale of this to Netflix Paramount’s best play with a star far past “Pitch Perfect.”
The story they’re telling is of a picked-on Aussie immigrant — Aussie Angourie Rice does a swell job of channeling Young Rebel — who plots a strategy to make herself popular. Stephanie is on the cusp of fulfilling her final high school goal, as cheer captain elected prom queen, when a cheer stunt is sabotaged by her mean girl rival Tiffany (Ani Yi Puig) and Stephanie is left in a coma for 20 years.
Love the way Tiffany’s assault, conspiracy and near-attempted murder is brushed away, by the way.
Twenty years later, Steph wakes up confused.
“Wait, Madonna’s now called ‘Lady Gaga?'”
She lost consciousness in a world of “biatch” and “hos” and Britney and “skanks,” and woke up in a place where “We don’t use that word any more” — a whole lot of “that words.”
Tiffany (Zoe Chao, perfectly vile) has stolen Steph’s “dream life.” She married Steph’s hunky prom-king boyfriend (Justin Hartley), gave birth to the “influencer” who goes by Bri Luvs and even moved into the mansion Steph dreamed of living in.
There’s nothing for it but to get back into school — at 37 — get organized and get back the life she coveted, because Steph still “has the mind of a twelfth grader.”
As her much-abused BFF from back then Martha (Mary Holland) is now principal, and the guy who crushed on her (Sam Richardson) is now head librarian, that should be a cinch.
Except the cheerleaders now all call themselves “cheer captain,” and their cheers are rhymes calling for a cleaner planet and more just human race.
“Who are you CHEERING for?” “EVERYone!”
Nobody gets the former queen bee’s “Ally McBeal,” “Salt’n Peppa” and Mister T references. And nobody gets to be prom queen or prom king any more, and nobody at Harding High cares.
Can Stephanie compete when the stakes are world wide web-centric? Will age-shaming Bri Luvs or her mean-mom let her?
“You don’t realize how many people don’t care about you until see it on a number on your phone.”
Wilson still has solid comic timing and being more svelte than she’s been in decades doesn’t make her any less funny. Director Alex Hardcastle, screenwriters Brandon Scott Jones, Andrew Knauer and Arthur Pielli take care of that for her.
But chewing through her string of dogs that merely climaxed with “Cats” — “The Hustle,” “Isn’t it Romantic” — this much seems obvious. Wilson is a comic force best delivered in showy supporting roles that pack a comic punch. The “Pitch Perfect” franchise may have decreed — she has claimed — that she not lose weight for any of those films. But that trilogy remains a model for the best way to showcase her.
Let her be hilarious every time she’s on screen, but not on screen so much that they run out of funny things for her to say and do, and not so much that we tire of her.
The general comic ineptitude at work here muzzles killer supporting player Chris Parnell (playing her dad) and squanders fine, bubbly work by Rice (“Spider-Man: No Way Home”) in the film’s faster-paced opening act.
Everything after Rice is just a long, slogging march to a “Figure out who your REAL friends/supporters are” message that’s been delivered in a hundred comedies better than “Senior Year.”
If Wilson doesn’t see the writing on the wall after this, Hollywood’s about to read it to her.
Rating: R (Brief Teen Drinking/Drug Use|Sexual Material|Language)
Cast: Rebel Wilson, Angourie Rice, Zoe Chao, Mary Holland, Sam Richardson, Jade Bender and Chris Parnell.
Credits: Directed by Alex Hardcastle, scripted by Brandon Scott Jones, Andrew Knauer and Arthur Pielli. A Paramount release on Netflix.
Running time: 1:53