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High school drop out: Efron stars in underwhelming ‘We Are Your Friends’

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By Jack Shelly / Staff Writer

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“We Are Your Friends”

Starring: Zac Efron, Wes Bentley and Emily Ratajkowski

Grade: C

 

It doesn’t take much reflection after watching “We Are Your Friends” to realize that Zac Efron’s career probably won’t be the next “McConaissance.” Even the career of co-star Wes Bentley — a well-documented former heroin user — has progressed better.

Fans of Bentley’s transfixing performance as Ricky Fitts in 1999’s “American Beauty” will recognize his captivating screen presence and understated sex appeal at work as an aging Los Angeles DJ legend named James Reed. James acts as a sensei to the young, aspiring DJ Cole Carter, played by perpetual sex-appeal-eclipsor Efron, who then must choose between his relationship with James’ girlfriend, Sophie, or reaching for his dream job as an Electronic Dance Music DJ. That might be the main premise of “We Are Your Friends,” but it’s hard to say, exactly. Director Max Joseph, co-host of MTV’s “Catfish,” leaves a pile of loose ends untouched in his directorial debut.

One of the most noticeable oversights is Sophie and Cole’s secret romance. Played by “Blurred Lines” music video star Emily Ratajkowski, Sophie resembles a near-perfect metaphor of both the movie and the increasingly typecasted Efron — classically beautiful, but lacking in genuine originality.

Sophie relies on her wealthy older boyfriend to pay the bills until Cole arrives, successfully tempting her to abandon James for their budding love. Though she does leave James, the movie maddeningly never offers any closure on their relationship.

Then there are Cole’s friends, who work together as struggling club promoters and later as co-conspirators in some kind of unspecified mortgage scam orchestrated by a seedy Italian businessman.

They swear it off, however, after one of the boys, Squirrel (Alex Shaffer), dies in what is alluded to be a drug overdose following their first house party.

While we can assume that Efron was cast to end up with his love interest, Squirrel’s fate is never made explicit. Instead, Squirrel’s death scene simply fades out to a rabbi saying kaddish over his lowered coffin.

Loose end after loose end notwithstanding, it’s impossible not to appreciate the visual feast Joseph gives us, including a rotoscoped PCP hallucination scene.

Efron lights up the screen in his full man-tank glory, his bicep-tricep ratio as golden as ever. Ten years after the premiere of “High School Musical,” it’s striking how little his depth as an actor has changed. Efron’s modus operandi remains the same as it was on the Disney Channel as Troy Bolton, the innocent boyish hero we’re all supposed to root for.

Efron, of course, is sincere enough in his role as Cole, but his conversations about the artistic validity of EDM with James are somewhat contrived. Efron’s fanbase — being the largely teenage, white and female veterans of “High School Musical” — will be content enough, but more mature audiences will be a tougher sell. No “Neighbors” fans here.

As basic as it is, what “We Are Your Friends” lacks in substance, it compensates with showmanship. Joseph’s visually arresting big-crowd festival and club scenes are thrilling to watch, as are the ecstasy-driven love scenes between Cole and Sophie.

Like Efron himself, we may not know whether Cole or Sophie will succeed in their respective endeavours. If his current film trajectory is any indication, though, what is certain is that Efron needs to make new friends in the film industry.

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High school drop out: Efron stars in underwhelming ‘We Are Your Friends’