Review: ‘He’s All That,’ more or less — remake of teen makeover romcom makes good
Presumably if you’re selecting “He’s All That,” the new Netflix gender-swapped reimagining of “She’s All That” (1999), you go in for that sort of thing. You know, the deception-based romantic comedy populated by ultra-shallow teens in which you await the glamorous lead’s lightbulb moment: Maybe it’s OK to love a person who isn’t popular! If so, you’ll be pleased to discover the entertaining remake has its charms; it actually is all that, for the most part.
Padgett (Addison Rae), royalty at her ritzy L.A. high school, is a social-media influencer specializing in makeovers. Have I lost you yet? When thrown over by her brain-dead, very white rapper beau Jordan (Peyton Meyer), her ensuing public meltdown could cost her her endorsements. To prove she hasn’t lost her touch, she takes a bet to transform outsider Cameron (Tanner Buchanan) into prom-king material without explaining her sudden interest.
Both “He’s” and “She’s” are written by R. Lee Fleming Jr., who updated the story to feel current, and thankfully improved the protagonist’s motivation. The new film is notably inclusive and the dialogue sometimes funny. (Cameron describing some classmates’ singing: “Sounds like they’re constipated but for some reason they’re happy about it.”)
Still, it’s not the easiest ask for viewers to relate to privileged teens whose only passion is image, though “Clueless” proved it’s not impossible. Even when the movie’s point is its protagonist finding substance more important than form, you may roll your eyes more than once at what matters in their world.
The gender swap is handled deftly for comic purposes, but the remake doesn’t attempt to find meaning in a girl treating a boy as a piece of meat this time around. Your ability to be entertained will be measured in part by your tolerance for genre tropes: The relationship springing from an arrogant, selfish, hurtful pretense evolves into true love; plus the ol’ clean-'em-up-and-turn-that-nottie-into-a-hottie maneuver. The nut of both “Thats” is in “My Fair Lady,” which itself sprang from “Pygmalion,” so the idea of condescendingly shaping the exterior only to fall in love with the interior has been previously accomplished with some success.
“He’s” boasts talented performers, despite some stunt casting. One could argue its lead represents both: TikTok dancing star Rae has more than 81 million followers and launched a singing career (with tiny tweaks, her “Obsessed” would make SNL proud), but is a relative acting novice. Now, she is the protagonist in a major Hollywood release. She acquits herself well enough; there are moments that look like chemistry between her and Buchanan. Rae’s real-life friend, Kourtney Kardashian, however, does not fare well even in a small role as Padgett’s boss.
The other bits of stunt casting will be well received by “She’s” fans: The original film’s star, Rachael Leigh Cook, makes a welcome appearance as Padgett’s mother, and co-star Matthew Lillard enjoys a brief, but very funny, turn as the principal.
Buchanan conveys the brooding outsider. There’s an effective moment between Cameron and Padgett when sharing their backstories: She seems to listen and be affected, while he seems to register she’s listening, and be affected by that.
Otherwise, the film is pretty much stolen by supporting players. Meyer gets all the best dumb “bros” lines; his conviction lands dialogue such as “You’re still mad about that? That was like two weeks ago!”
Annie Jacob wrings out every drop of her WTF-ness, as she does in a single confused “Hey?!” She gets the most out of a protective warning delivered with a smile: “Though you’re incredibly hot, you’re not the complete monster I thought you’d be.” Young Isabella Crovetti, as Cameron’s sister, has a grounded, moving scene with him.
“He’s All That” bops with amusing dialogue and lively filmmaking led by the direction of Mark Waters of “Mean Girls” and some snappy editing by Travis Sittard. It even overcomes some of the most blatant product placement in recent memory (PepsiCo® got its money’s worth) to emerge as an enjoyable, worthy reimagining of a film this reviewer won’t call a “classic,” but will say is fondly remembered and fun.
'He's All That'
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Playing: Available Aug. 27 on Netflix
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