Freaky Friday the 13th is such an obviously good idea that the only remotely surprising thing is that it took until 2020 for somebody to make it. And while the film in question has been released under the truncated title of Freaky - as I understand it, Paramount's lawyers raised a bigger stink about Friday the 13th than Disney's lawyers raised about Freaky Friday - it couldn't be more open about how much it loves its influences and how happy it is to borrow things from them. It has title cards inspired by Friday the 13th's poster, and it directly re-creates of one of the most iconic moments from Halloween; it has gags based entirely on letting us know that it knows that we see it setting up jump scares. It is exactly the movie it claims to be, and there is, in a sense, nothing more we can ask of any film.

That being said, being exactly the movie it claims to be means that it can't be anything more than that, and if there's one thing that Freaky doesn't supply even once in its annoyingly long 101 minutes, it's a surprise. This is particularly disappointing given that the film shares director and co-writer Christopher Landon with 2017's Happy Death Day and 2019's Happy Death Day 2U, films that specifically avoid that trap: they start at "Groundhog Day as a slasher movie", but move beyond it. Freaky starts at "Freaky Friday as a slasher movie", and that is where it ends, and also what it does in-between. It has exactly the strengths you'd expect it to have, and precisely none others, and when it becomes clear around a third of the way through that we have already seen literally everything that the film ever plans to show us, it starts to get awfully hard to keep caring about. It's a pleasant, cute movie, and "pleasant and cute" turns out not to be enough to get us to 101 minutes.

The film opens in grand slasher fashion, with a prologue that has nothing to with the rest of the movie. Well, not nothing. It's where the psycho killer known only as the Blissfield Butcher (Vince Vaughn) gets the magical Aztec dagger that will end up swapping him into the body of a teenage girl. Before that happens, though, we meet a nice little quartet of expendable teenagers, so expendable that I didn't even catch their names. Though the cynical rich one is Ginny (Kelly Lamor Wilson), and it's her fancy house where they're gathered together on Wednesday, October 11* to swap stories about the mythical Butcher, who kills local high schoolers on homecoming weekend. Homecoming isn't till Friday, but the decided non-mythical Butcher is apparently getting a head start this year, because all four kids end up dead, in four kill scenes that demonstrate precisely how much the filmmakers love '80s slashers and gore effects, and how well Landon can handle an R-rating when he's given the chance to demonstrate it (this is the one way in which Freaky is better than Happy Death Day). It's both a superlative example of slasher filmmaking and a happy, goofy-minded send-up of all the contrivances and dumb bullshit that go into the traditional slasher, and it's where the movie peaks as a horror-comedy; going forward, it will become almost entirely disinterested in the "horror" half of that equation.

The "comedy" half is where the body swapping all takes place, and Freaky does pretty much exactly what will happen in such a situation. Millie (Kathryn Newton) is a sad and full of self-doubted, something that has only intensified since her father died; her mother (Katie Finneran) has turned to alcohol to cope with this, and her big sister Char (Dana Drori) has flung herself into being a hard-ass cop, leaving Millie to shuffle around sadly with her best friends Nyla (Celeste O'Connor) and Josh (Misha Osherovich), as she gets picked on in a not-very-aggressive way by bully Ryler (Melissa Collazo). She's stranded on the night of October 12 when her mother passes out drunk, and this makes her a sitting duck when the Butcher comes by, wielding that magic knife; he stabs her, they both receive a wound, and at the stroke of midnight, their souls swap bodies. And so, for the entirety of Friday the 13th, Millie is now in the body of a big, thick man, and the Butcher has to make do with a petite frame lacking any upper body strength.

I am tempted to say that, outside of the slasher in-jokes in the opening sequence, literally 100% of what works in Freaky is on the shoulders of Vaughn and Newton. Landon and Michael Kennedy's script (the latter's first feature) very quickly gets hung up on a pervasive inability to write dialogue, especially for its teen characters: they all speak in uncomfortably overstuffed blasts of exposition, or in tiny little Twitter-sized bites about gender and sexuality (although Nyla is African-American, the film doesn't even pretend to have anything to say about race), which would like to function as socially progressive messages, but mostly come across as buzzwordy aphorisms, and for the most part only get mentioned once, without any significant amount of development. This overall wordiness doesn't help the jokes land, and it messes with the rhythm of scenes; it also has a distinct tendency to make the characters feel more like bundle of shallow nervous tics than well-defined human personality, especially Char and Josh.

But Vaughn and Newton cut through all of that to find something solid and entirely satisfying. They are both doing, in broad strokes, what you would expect them to do. Vaughn has the nervous way of darting from spot to spot with the prey-like focus of a teenager who has years of practice not being notices; he talks nervously with his hands; he giggles timorously when a cute boy looks him in the face (and, in a dumbfounding scene that I hope like hell worked better on the page than it does in the film, he shyly kisses a teen boy on the mouth). Newton has a more monotonous character, so her performance doesn't have as many flashes of inspiration: she mostly just stares, unblinking, with a tight, toothy grin and repeats words like she's trying to figure out how to move her tongue around her mouth for the first time.

Still, even if both leads are basically just giving the performance that the scenario mandates them to give, they're both doing an excellent job of it. Freaky offers silly and shallow pleasures, but they are pleasurable; it's comfort food in that sense. It's still a horror-comedy that's never scary and only effortfully funny, and Landon's visual sensibility shuts down entirely when he's not drawing on slasher movie visual style, but it's at least never painful; indeed, for all its stiffness and lumps, I would go so far as to call it a real fun, fine time for the slasher movie faithful. It absolutely does not feel like it has half the staying power of Happy Death Day, but that's not really a fair bar, and Freaky's biggest sin, honestly, is that it's just not very creative or memorable. But it never claimed that it would be.

For more on Freaky, check out Brennan's interviews with director Christopher Landon and co-writer Michael Kennedy!

*A calendar configuration that last took place in 2017 and will next take place in 2023, but it doesn't really matter & there's no good reason to dwell on it.