Wobbling a mile in Mom's heels

Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan shine in Disney's remake of 'Freaky Friday'

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

Everyone knows the formula for a family-friendly summer hit: lots of action, as much fantasy as the subject allows, and oodles upon oodles of computer-juiced special effects.

The folks at Walt Disney Pictures are experts in all these departments, but they're smart enough - and confident enough - to know the benefits of breaking the mold from time to time. Of the above ingredients, only fantasy makes a strong appearance in "Freaky Friday," the delightful new remake of Disney's popular 1976 comedy.

Deliciously acted and good-humored to its core, it's one of the summer's very best surprises.

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True, it doesn't have Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, who starred in the original as a mother and daughter who find they've inexplicably exchanged bodies and have to live in each other's shoes (and skirts, jeans, and underwear) for a peculiar 24-hour period.

What it does have is just as agreeable: Jamie Lee Curtis as the psychotherapist mom and Lindsay Lohan as the rock-loving teenager of the tale.

Young as she is, Lohan is already a veteran of such movies - she played the pivotal twin-sister roles in Disney's remake of "The Parent Trap" five years ago - and Curtis remains as gifted and appealing as ever.

Better yet, there's hardly a special effect in sight, despite the story's fantastic premise.

Expecting the worst, I feared today's Hollywood would be unable to resist the temptation of doing the body-switch trick half-a-dozen times or so, unleashing a barrage of eye-baffling visuals at every opportunity.

Happily, the opposite is true. The filmmakers put all their trust in snappy dialogue, clever situations, and perky performances from one and all. Here's hoping this is the start of a long-lasting trend.

There are moments in "Freaky Friday" that didn't quite jell, especially a contrived scene where the mom in kid's body has to fake her way as a rock guitarist in an audition the kid herself can't play at because, well, she looks like a middle-aged lady at the moment.

But this and a few other rough spots are more than compensated for by the movie's optimistic message - delivered with a welcome minimum of sentimentality and cliché - that even the infamous generation gap can be smoothly bridged when people learn to comprehend the challenges of one another's lives.

And there's the sprightly acting, too. Curtis shines almost every moment she's on the screen, playing her improbable part with nary a trace of mugging or exaggeration.

Similar kudos go to Lohan and to the solid supporting cast including Mark Harmon as the widowed mom's fiancé, Stephen Tobolowski as a misguided schoolteacher who gets a deserved comeuppance, plus Lucille Soong and Rosalind Chao as the mother-and-daughter proprietors of a Chinese restaurant whose enigmatic fortune cookies spark the miraculous transformation of our heroines.

Hats off also to director Mark Waters for keeping the story moving at a brisk and feisty pace.

The only freaky thing about this "Friday" is that it's a proudly refreshing change from the usual run of warm-weather fare.

Rated PG; contains mild vulgarity.

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