You know your movie's not destined to be a classic when its best feature is its soundtrack CD.
If your current age starts with a number higher than two but lower than four, you're guaranteed a few nostalgic kicks from the fantasy/comedy "13 Going on 30," simply from the movie's opening scenes set in the spandex-and-synthesizer world of 1987. Other than that, and maybe Jennifer Garner's dimples, there's not much to this movie that audiences haven't already seen.
The premise is eerily close to Tom Hanks' 1988 breakthrough hit, "Big." On her 13th birthday, smart but uncool Jenna Rink makes a desperate wish to fast-forward her life and be "30, flirty and thriving" like the women in her favorite fashion magazine. Aided by some fortuitously placed wishing dust, she wakes up 17 years later played by Garner, smack dab in the middle of a successful and glamorous life as an editor at the glossy mag.
Here's where the plot departs from "Big:" Hanks was suddenly a 13-year-old in a grown man's body, trying to create a brand new life in the same world he'd always known as a kid. Garner's also 13 mentally and emotionally, but she has traveled to the future and has to fit into a life she's already created for herself.
After the initial terror of waking up in a strange apartment and finding a naked man in her shower (her boyfriend, a vacuous pro hockey player), and then the rush of realizing her fondest dreams had come true, complete with a shopping spree montage, she comes to find that people don't think of her as the sweet, honest pre-teen she left behind. In fact, she's become known as a cold, uppity witch.
She tracks down her best friend from junior high, a fellow dweeb named Matty whose heart she apparently broke on her campaign for popularity at all costs. Matt Ruffalo, who played Gwyneth Paltrow's unflappable boyfriend in the abysmal "View from the Top," makes a good, solidly grounded foil for Garner's flighty hysterics, but he hits the same note throughout the film, eventually making audiences wonder what she sees in him.
Drawing on her physical work in her action-oriented TV series, "Alias," Garner does a worthy job with her character's comedic moments. The movie's high point is an office party scene just hours after her transformation, when she's still giddy over being grown up. The evening's dying a quick death despite the fancy nightclub and hip-hop DJ, until she puts in a request for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and leads her coworkers in the classic graveyard dance routine.
This and other musically-inspired moments are worth the bargain matinee ticket price, perhaps. But "13 Going on 30" stays within the boundaries of "sweet and safe" in much the same way as did the last effort from screenwriters Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith, the similarly styled fantasy/comedy "What Women Want." Viewers never really get a good laugh, nor do they feel all that sorry when the characters invevitably hit bottom. Neither film dares to hit the highs and lows that make a movie truly memorable. Tom Hanks, your niche is safe.
"13 Going on 30"
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content and brief drug references
Starring: Jennifer Garner, Matt Ruffalo, Judy Greer, Richard Serkis
Directed by: Gary Winick
Length: One hour 37 minutes
Now playing at: Astoria Gateway Cinemas, Cannes Cinema in Seaside and Neptune Twin Theatres in Long Beach, Wash.
Short take: Jennifer Garner's cute as an adolescent misfit who suddenly finds herself 30 years old and not exactly the person she expected to be. The warm and fuzzy movie doesn't have much emotional kick, but it's a pleasant diversion. (And the '80s rule.)
Rating: Two stars (out of four)