- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

“Freaky Friday,” opening nationally today, looks as if it intends to wear out its welcome before tomorrow during an aggressively moronic getaway reel. This expository shambles arouses little curiosity about the revamped turnabout pretext, derived from a comic novel by Mary Rodgers filmed under Disney auspices in 1977.

Surprisingly, things improve. “Freaky” redux, also made by Disney, stabilizes once its far-fetched ground rules have been activated. By the fadeout, it rates as a reasonably diverting slapdash domestic farce — and a happy confirmation of the winsome potential in Lindsay Lohan, the juvenile actress who made an enchanting debut five years ago in the swell Disney remake of “The Parent Trap.”

The first movie version of “Freaky” cast Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris as the teenager and the mom who experience a supernatural body trade for a day, in order to emerge with a keener appreciation of what the other is thinking and facing day after day.

Miss Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis inherit the equivalent, superficially updated roles of Anna and Tess Coleman, respectively. The mother, now characterized as a best-selling psychologist rather than a “mere” housewife, is also a widow on the eve of a second marriage in this retelling. A comedy without a wedding on tap would seem almost undressed at this point.

Mark Harmon appears as an admirably patient and distinguished suitor called Ryan. He enhances a male supporting cast that is mostly there to be imperturbable while the women seem to be going haywire. Harold Gould plays a wisecracking gramps, and Ryan Malgarini a problem-free kid brother called Harry, whose job is to raise a clever juvenile eyebrow at the odd behavior of his sister and mother.

Although the wedding ceremony looms as a unifying finale, it’s not exploited for as much playful or revealing emotional confusion as the identity switch would seem to imply. You could believe that Ryan would have a calming influence on Anna and Tess. You’re never certain that the writers have given adequate thought to Tess’ need for another husband and Anna’s expectations in another father.

The most effective gag about displaced infatuation while the women are concealed in opposite bodies finds the altered Tess sharing a motorcycle ride with the high school classmate Anna is sweet on, an enigma named Jake (Chad Michael Murray). Behind the wheel of the family car, Anna is startled to see her mom and her heartthrob pull up in the adjacent lane, enjoying a certain intimacy that Anna has been longing for. The filmmakers never come up with a reciprocal interlude that reveals Ryan and an unexpectedly mature Anna on the same wavelength while an adolescent Tess is within earshot.

As it was in 1977, the conception is far more flattering to the young actress who gets to play older than the older actress who gets to revert to teenage behavior patterns. Miss Curtis is clearly the uninhibited madcap on the premises once Tess ceases to act her age, but if memory serves, the gently screwball nature of Barbara Harris was much easier on the nerves. Miss Curtis’ crucial miscalculation is that she appears to lack Lindsay Lohan’s becoming gravity and delicacy as a juvenile actress. The altered Anna becomes an improvement on her mother while Tess backslides to some level of immaturity that Anna had already outgrown.

It’s also alarming to reflect that Miss Curtis is not looking her best. She seems to have hit an awkward age at 43, and “Freaky Friday” keeps encouraging her to ram an invisible wall head-on to demonstrate that the glamorous Jamie Lee is no match for a wacky Jamie Lee.

The more harmonious mother-daughter act is entrusted to veteran Asian-American actresses, Lucille Soong and Rosalind Chao, who preside at a Chinese restaurant and supposedly precipitate the body switch through the magical power of life-altering fortune cookies.

This brainstorm is at once a supernatural and ethnic throwback, but Miss Soong and Miss Chao finesse the wheeze expertly. It might be amusing to rematch them in a sitcom about a Chinese restaurant run by essentially benign witches. Sort of a Szechuan or Hunan variation on “Bewitched.” Their act is already the most polished feature of “Freaky Friday.”

**

WHAT: “Freaky Friday”

RATING: PG (Fleeting profanity, comic vulgarity and sexual allusions)

CREDITS: Directed by Mark Waters. Screenplay by Heather Hach and Leslie Dixon, based on the novel by Mary Rodgers. Cinematography by Oliver Wood. Production design by Cary White. Costume design by Genevieve Tyrrell. Music by Rolfe Kent

RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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