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‘He’s All That’ is not all that at all

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There’s a universality to certain stories that ensures that every generation gets its own versions of them. These fundamental narratives can be adapted and shaped to the time in which they are told; the evolve as the culture around them does.

George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” has become one of those universal stories in the century-plus since it first landed in 1913. The tale of one upper-class person shaping another, lower-class person to fit appropriately into the former’s world is one that has been told again and again. The former (almost always a man) brings the latter (almost always a woman) into their own social stratum – often at the expense of the latter’s dignity and/or personal identity.

1999’s “She’s All That” was the high school rom-com version of that tale for late 20th century moviegoers, a film that landed in the midst of a spate of teen-oriented cinematic fare. The BMOC takes a wager in which he is to turn the school’s lowliest of the social low into the prom queen and hijinks ensue.

Now imagine that, only gender-flipped.

That’s the fundamental premise of “He’s All That,” a remake of that earlier film. Directed by Mark Waters from a screenplay by R. Lee Fleming Jr., this new Netflix offering seeks to breathe new life into the story and capture the attention of younger viewers while also appealing to the nostalgic impulses of those who carry affection for the previous movie.

Unfortunately, what little magic the first film had is long gone. Instead, we get a formulaic and rather soulless movie, one that feels designed to satisfy algorithmic quadrants rather than actual human audiences. There’s a dearth of chemistry between the leads and an overarching sense of vapidity that serves largely to undermine the basic premise of the film. When you wind up with a moral that is basically “Changing who you are for someone else is good actually,” something has gone terribly wrong along the way.

Padgett Sawyer (Addison Rae) is a high school student in California. Her world is built around maintaining an image; she’s an online influencer, posting makeover and other videos for her thousands of followers. She lives with her mom Anna (Rachael Leigh Cook), a nurse, who is befuddled by it all, but recognizes that Padgett’s online presence could help pay for college.

Padgett’s boyfriend is a fellow internet star, a self-involved narcissist named Jordan van Draanan (Peyton Meyer). They’re a power couple, but that all falls apart when Padgett catches him in the act of cheating on her. Her heart is broken, but the worst part for her is the negative impact it has had on her follower count.

In an effort to bounce back and recapture the internet’s attention, Padgett agrees to a bet with her mean girl friend Alden (Madison Pettis). Basically, Padgett must take the biggest loser in school and turn him into the prom king – and Alden gets to pick.

She opts for long-haired loner Cameron (Tanner Buchanan), a guy who spends all of his time taking photographs and hanging out with his best friend Nisha (Annie Jacob). Oh, and actively antagonizing Jordan and his assortment of hangers-on – much to the dismay of his younger sister Brin (Isabella Crovetti), who would like nothing more than to gain access to the world of the cool kids.

You can probably figure it out from there, right? Padgett starts talking to Cameron, scheming different ways to get close to him. Cameron resists, but finds himself drawn to Padgett. The plan starts playing out to Padgett’s benefit, but as it does, she finds herself developing genuine feelings, only to wonder if the truth about her motivations will undermine the relationship that they’ve built.

Blah blah hijinks blah.

It’s not even that “He’s All That” is a bad movie (although it is); “She’s All That” was far from good, but still managed to inspire some degree of affection. No, the larger issue is that it is an utterly disposable movie, indistinguishable from scores of other recent films. It is a film constructed around TikTok stars and former Disney/Nick tweens grown slightly older, an effort to cash in on accelerated or even more-or-less-instant nostalgia while also making vague stabs at appealing to the memories of the previous generation.

(See the inclusion of Cook, as well as Matthew Lillard, both of whom were in “She’s All That” and whose presence in this film seems to be little more than an effort to get those of us who remember that earlier film to go full Rick Dalton and point at our screens.)

Is there some potential to the gender-swapping of the premise? Sure. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that the filmmakers were all that clear on what the premise actually was. Sacrificing one’s individuality for the fleeting rush of temporary (because it’s ALWAYS temporary) popularity is the conflict, not the resolution. And yet, here, it seems that the only meaningful change is the wrong one.

All this leaves aside the fundamental Netflixiness of it all, that sheen of artificiality that has become the streamer’s de facto house style, which is extremely present here.

The film is further undermined by the utter lack of chemistry between our two leads. These two are supposed to be falling in love, but there’s zero connection. Rae’s pushing hard, but doesn’t seem to know quite what to do, while Buchanan is kind of a lump, an off-brand James Franco without the charisma. The rest of the ensemble isn’t much better, though their characters are one-note by design, so it’s hard to fault them for playing them as such. There are flashes – Jacob is quite good and Meyer gives some solid douchebro – but for the most part, it all rings false.

And ultimately, that’s the biggest issue with “He’s All That.” For all its faults – and there were many – at least “She’s All That” was sincere and invested in the story it was telling. This latest iteration doesn’t even have that. It is a sterile and uninteresting film, one that is not, in fact, all that.

[1 out of 5]

Last modified on Monday, 30 August 2021 10:59

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