Disney's effort to turn Kristen Bell into America's Sweetheart hits a wall with You Again, a flat romantic comedy that packages her in a funny setup and surrounds her with funny people.
That the experiment tips over backwards isn't wholly Bell's fault. She's certainly more interesting to watch here than in When in Rome. But the laughs are few in this variation on a Mean Girls theme. And not surprisingly, most of them come from the supporting cast.
Marni (Bell) was mercilessly bullied in high school, and that's the last thing a kid with acne, braces, glasses and a really bad haircut needed. Her chief tormentor was J.J., the hotheaded cheerleader played with a cruel verve by Odette Yustman. J.J. was the girl who turned Marni's initials, M.O.O., into a final humiliation. "Moo" she was and "Moo" she might have remained.
Instead, Marni has grown up to be a successful public relations professional, a vice president at age 26. But a summons home for her brother's wedding brings back the ugly old days. Brother Will (James Wolk) is marrying Joanna, an adorably sweet nurse whom the whole family adores. But Joanna used to be J.J. She can't for the life of her remember Marni, the "loser" she scorned — or so she says.
Marni can't accept "Satan's spawn as my sister-in-law." But before she can confess her fear and loathing to her family, Mom (Jamie Lee Curtis) discovers her own wedding nemesis. She and Joanna's aunt (Sigourney Weaver) had high school issues. And the aunt, too, acts as if nothing happened between them.
Whatever that setup promises is lost in Moe Jelline's joke-starved script. The clash of the older women has little sting, and aside from the "money" moment — when Marni figures out that Joanna does remember her — neither do the slings and arrows of the younger pair.
Director Andy Fickman (Race to Witch Mountain) tries the tricks of the desperate — karaoke, food fights and star cameos by Dwayne Johnson, an unfunny Kristin Chenoweth and an Oscar winner in the finale. He even trots out America's granny, Betty White. What does it say about your movie when even Betty White can't find a decent laugh?
You Again has wonderful messages about second chances — making mistakes is part of life; "how we fix them is what matters." Those could be warm interludes if the comedy surrounding them worked.
Bell is as hapless as ever. Follow her eyes in an "I'll leave you two alone" scene. She's worried about her exit.
Here's a tip. She can be funny, as a supporting player, as a mean girl. She proved it in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. But she will never become America's Sweetheart, even if you give her better scripts.