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film review

The plot follows a paint-by-numbers approach to the geek-to-chic formula perfected in the late nineties and early aughts.KEVIN ESTRADA/NETFLIX © 2021/Netflix

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  • He’s All That
  • Directed by Mark Waters
  • Written by R. Lee Fleming Jr
  • Starring Addison Rae, Tanner Buchanan and Rachael Leigh Cook
  • Classification TV-MA, 88 minutes
  • Available on August 27, 2021 on Netflix

In the illustrious canon of teen romance films, 1999′s She’s All That is considered a bona fide classic. The nineties spin on Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw’s play about the glow-up of Eliza Doolittle at the hands of Professor Henry Higgins, is embedded in the psyche of most millennials who can still picture star Rachael Leigh Cook’s descent down the stairs to Sixpence None the Richer’s hit song Kiss Me.

As Laney Boggs, geeky artist turned prom queen, Cook and co-star Freddie Prinze Jr. became instant stars and helped herald in an era of boisterous, candy-coloured teen rom-coms that were at once impossibly silly, subversively smart and extremely charming. Riding a wave of nostalgia for that era, Netflix has reimagined the film 22 years later, with a flipped script and a host of social-media influencers and reality stars at the helm.

He’s All That stars TikTok megastar Addison Rae – who has more than 82 million followers on the popular app – as Padgett Sawyer, a teen influencer whose brand deals hinge on her cool girl persona and loved-up couple status with fellow high-school influencer Jordan Van Draanen. It all comes crashing down when she catches Jordan mid-smooch with another girl and her friends livestream the whole, humiliating mess for all 900,000 of her followers. In an effort to regain her status as reigning teen queen, she agrees to make over her artfully dishevelled classmate Cameron Kweller, played by Tanner Buchanan, or risk becoming a “permanent loser.”

The rest of the plot follows a paint-by-numbers approach to the geek-to-chic formula perfected in the late nineties and early aughts – but with stiff performances by Rae and much of the supporting cast, this reboot is mostly charmless. Much of the action feels disingenuous, particularly the stuff around social media. Given Rae’s own rise to fame off her enthusiastic but not necessarily skillful dance routines, it’s hard to believe Padgett Sawyer’s devoted followers would turn on her for being cheated on. After all, vulnerability sells on social. The makeover itself also doesn’t quite land; Cameron’s haircut and shave would hardly be a before and after worth posting.

He’s All That stars TikTok megastar Addison Rae as Padgett Sawyer, a teen influencer whose brand deals hinge on her cool girl persona.KEVIN ESTRADA/NETFLIX © 2021/Netflix

Despite some clever, winking nods to the original, including appearances by Cook herself and Matthew Lillard, He’s All That fails to deliver on what She’s All That did so well: a sweet, lighthearted romance that hinges on the chemistry between its two leads. Rae and Buchanan never quite manage to create the kind of frisson needed to carry us, hopelessly enthralled, into the third act. By the time the betrayal of the “bet” is revealed, it’s hard to care whether the two leads forgive each other let alone even like each other. Even a handful of cameos from reality star Kourtney Kardashian can’t elevate the flick beyond its listless, movie-of-the-week energy.

I’d love to see Rae in a film that makes better use of her talents and the appeal that turned her into one of social media’s biggest stars, but for now, He’s All That falls mostly flat.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)