Disney has cranked a good deal of mileage out of the body-swap gimmick over the years. The original Jodie Foster-starring Freaky Friday has already spawned one made-for-TV remake, and only last spring Rob Schneider was trading places with a hot chick in, well, The Hot Chick. So there's not a lot of originality from Mark Waters' updated Friday - - the only surprise is that it's far better than you'd expect.
For this, give thanks to Jamie Lee Curtis, who seizes the role of uptight-mom-turned-teen-brat with both hands and delivers an impressive, spiky turn. Just as her character reverts to adolescence, so Curtis turns back the clock to the days of Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda, reminding us what a fine comedienne she can be when given the right material.
But the fact that this teen-oriented caper has been hijacked by a 45-year-old actress is just one of the subversive delights on offer. You wouldn't expect a Disney comedy to comment on gender roles, but it's worth considering how secondary the men are in this oddly feminist fantasy.
Either they're old and doddering (Harold Gould's goofy grandpa), a pesky irritation (Anna's younger brother) or just a handsome accessory (Mark Harmon, mere window-dressing as Curtis' fiancé). They're also pretty fickle, with Anna's Harley-riding boyfriend (Chad Michael Murray) happily ditching her to moon after her suddenly irresistible mother.
Not that it's all good news, mind. Teen star Lohan may have taken on a dual role in Disney's Parent Trap retread, meaning she has no trouble when it comes to differentiating between funky Anna and prissy Tess - - but she fails to fully inhabit her roles. Never able to hide the joins, she turns in an obvious, affected performance that causes the film to drag and stutter whenever her "fun-sucker" character appears on screen.
There are other problems, too: the Chinese granny who instigates the whole mess with her magical fortune cookies is an insulting stereotype, and the schmaltzy finale at Tess' wedding dinner will have you retching into your popcorn instead of oohing and aahing. But for all that, Freaky Friday remains something of a rarity: a remake that not only lives up to its predecessor, but also improves on it. But then the original was hardly The Wizard Of Oz...