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With: Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, Andy Serkis, Kathy Baker, Lynn Collins
Written by: Josh Goldsmith, Cathy Yuspa
Directed by: Gary Winick
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content and brief drug references
Running Time: 98
Date: 04/14/2004

13 Going on 30 (2004)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Chronic Youth

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After playing overly solemn roles and crying all the time in her hit TV series "Alias" and in the dud Daredevil, Jennifer Garner finally shows her pearly whites. In 13 Going on 30 she's buoyant and clearly having a great time. Too bad the filmmakers didn't put any more than the most cursory attempt into building any kind of plot around her. Writers Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith (What Women Want) came up with the "story" and another writer, Niels Mueller (Tadpole), "fleshed" it out, but it's really just a half-hearted, half-baked retread of Big (1988), with one twist. In Big, a little boy suddenly woke up in Tom Hanks' body, and in 13 Going on 30, Jenna Rink (Garner) wakes up in her adult body with no knowledge of the past 17 years.

If only the filmmakers, including director Gary Winick, had done something with this new premise. They can't even be bothered to stick with the old one; Jenna's behavior varies from scene to scene. In some scenes she acts like a little girl stuck in the mid-80s and in others she behaves like a professional grown-up. Director Winick's previous film Tadpole suffered for precisely the same reason; his characters don't act like real people. The movie does use its premise to resurrect some kinder, gentler 80s tunes. Jenna puts all her faith in the message of Pat Benatar's "Love Is a Battlefield" and when someone asks her about Eminem, she replies, "Plain! No! Peanut!"

Jenna in her new body works for a fashion magazine that's slowly sinking and needs a re-design. It's not too hard to figure out that Jenna will save the day with her 13 year-old, mid-80s point of view. At the same time she must win back the love of her life, Matt (Mark Ruffalo), a boy she once alienated in exchange for popularity. Besides Garner, the rest of the cast is equally game. Ruffalo is turning into one of our most versatile actors, having recently played a violent cop in In the Cut, a smitten computer nerd in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and his expert turn in You Can Count on Me. In addition, we get to see the very talented Andy Serkis -- the voice of Gollum -- in a live action role as Jenna's editor.

But the casts' efforts are entirely wasted. Even a jubilant dance number choreographed to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" comes across as a throwaway. Maybe Mel Gibson has the right idea; since actors are the only ones who do any work these days, maybe more of them should initiate their own projects. Either that or do away with craven studio executives who greenlight heartless carbon copies like this one.

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