They don't make teenage comedies like they used to. That being said, "How to Build a Better Boy" is a movie coming out of the Disney Channel, so it's not like we were going to get something as wonderful as "Sixteen Candles" or as fetch as "Mean Girls." That doesn't make it bad; rather, if you're into a tamer version of "Weird Science," then this is the flick for you.
Gabby (China Anne McClain, "A.N.T. Farm") and Mae (Kelli Berglund, "Lab Rats") are best friends and straight-A students. It's them against the world, because they're far more engrossed in learning than the other, more fun things high school has to offer. Or so Gabby thinks. While she's perfectly comfortable with her intelligence and herself, Mae has found something more captivating than her books: cutie-patootie Jaden (Noah Centineo, "Austin & Ally"), whom she happens to tutor. Gabby scoffs at her pal's interest in him, and it soon becomes clear that the issue isn't so much Mae but her insecure BFF (though not to my eight-year-old, who simply thought Gabby was being mean). But you catch my drift.
It all comes to a head when Mae gets bullied by popular girl Nevaeh (Ashley Argota, "The Fosters"). In my day, I would've met a girl like her in the field across from the front of the school (a.k.a. not on school property) and the earrings would be coming off. But this is Disney (and television) so, instead, Gabby offers to use her smarts to make Mae the perfect guy. She uses Mae's dad's (Roger Bart, "Revenge") design software and creates Albert (Marshall Williams, "Canadian Idol"), who is the boy of every girl's -- and probably some guys' -- dreams. Too bad Mae's dad isn't just a brainiac software designer and actually works for a classified military group. So aside from looking gorgeous, saying all the right things, and having the ability to transform a Selena Gomez song into an even catchier tune, Albert is actually a lethal weapon.
So not only do all the girls want a piece of Albert, but so does the military branch that wants to contain their super-advanced robot soldier and make sure he (it?) doesn't fall into the wrong hands. Gabby, with the help of Mae's brother, Bart (Matt Shively, Jessie), realizes too late that tampering with technology -- and your friend's feelings -- aren't exactly the smartest things a person can do. Ahh, we tend to hurt the people we love the most. We don't mean to but the best intentions are fraught with disappointments. Don't fret, though, it's Disney. Every wrong is eventually righted and good prevails over evil.
I had one qualm about "How to Build a Better Boy" -- but it's a biggie: the nerdification of McClain and Berglund. In these kinds of movies, typical high school playground antics have the nerdy girls pitted against the bitchy cool chick and her clique. McClain and Berglund are gorgeous girls, and there's no hiding it. They're not even socially inept, or have bad skin or frizzy, hopeless hair. Yet because of their dorky (yet cool) glasses and their colourful (yet stylish) clothes, they're considered outcasts, the losers of the school. No. Just ... NO.
Like "She's All That'"s bespectacled, overalls-wearing Laney, who had stunning features that a blind person could see, Gabby and Mae are the whole package -- beautiful, sweet and brilliant. The movie eventually celebrates that, and viewers, though maybe not the youngest ones, will see that right away. But still. If only they could've been more like Ally Sheedy in "The Breakfast Club," or "Mean Girls'" Janis Ian or, heck, even Violet in "The Incredibles," and were perfectly (and ironically) content with being dark and broody. That would've taken this Disney movie up a notch. Sure, viewers don't tune in to family shows and movies for unexpected twists and turns, but that could've been what elevated "How to Build a Better Boy" from decent to perfect.
"How to Build a Better Boy" premieres Friday, August 15 at 8 p.m. ET on Family.