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Review: 'To-Do List' works despite one-joke premise

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What you see is what you get in "The To-Do List," a crude, teen sex comedy that manages to entertain throughout despite its one-joke premise.

"Parks and Recreation" star Aubrey Plaza stars as Brandy Klark, an uptight Boise, Idaho, high school valedictorian who has lived life strictly by the book. Anything to do with the opposite sex has never entered her clean, prim and proper mind, until she spots Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), a hunky, bleach-blonde surfer dude-type that awakens her dormant sexual desires.

The revelation prompts Brandy's friends (Alia Shawkat and Sarah Steele) and sister (Rachel Bilson) to encourage the teen to become more sexually experienced before she starts college and is exposed to a whole new world in the fall.

So, being the steadfast organizer and researcher that she is, Brandy does her homework and writes up a "To-Do List" of all things sexual, and checks off the awkward encounters one-by-one until she reaches the end of her list -- which is losing her virginity to Rusty. The problem is, Brandy is completing the "tasks" more like school assignments, trampling over the feelings of her lifelong friend, Cameron (Johnny Simmons), who's having a hard time expressing his true feelings for her.

See my review of "The To-Do List" on "KARE 11 News at 11" with Pat Evans below.

Most of the jokes in "The To-Do List" originate from two areas -- the actual To-Do List, which is outrageously played out encounter by encounter with a giant check mark appearing on-screen with a "ding" once each task is complete; and the film's setting -- 1993 -- which lampoons the styles, sounds, and attitudes of the day (although Brandy's actions are completely irresponsible, at least writer-director Maggie Carey wasn't afraid to address AIDS, albeit in a less urgent manner than the real threat of the times).

Given the explicit subject matter, "The To-Do List" has no choice to embrace and go full-throttle with the sex jokes, and the film has no trouble earning its hard R rating. The film is extremely crude at times, which will either make you laugh out loud, make you cringe, or cringe while laughing.

Of course, "The To-Do List" will work best for its target audience -- late teen girls to 30-something women -- but the inclusion of "Saturday Night Live" veteran (and Carey's husband) Bill Hader as manager of community pool where some of the shenanigans take place broadens the appeal. Other welcome additions to the cast are Connie Britton as Brandy's sexually liberated mother and Clark Gregg as her over-wound, overprotective dad.

Plaza is perfect as the cold and calculated Brandy -- but almost to the point that her character is unlikable. Her best scenes are with Bilson, whose sibling rivalry comes off as painfully real.

While the "To-Do List" manages to find its share of laughs, it's probably not as much of a must-see comedy as earlier summer entries "This is the End" and "The Heat." Like the list it follows throughout the film, "The To-Do List" is pretty much a by-the-book comedy.

"The To-Do List," Rated R, 2 1/2 stars out of four.

See a sneak peek at "The To-Do List" below.

What other local critics are saying ...

Noting he had low expectations in his Star Tribune review, Colin Covert gives "The To-Do List" 2 1/2 stars, saying it is "idiosyncratic enough to hold our attention without entirely commanding our admiration."

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he also reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11.” As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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