Few entertainment phenomena are as perplexing to the uninitiated as the commercial juggernaut that is the Olsen twins, and their first major feature foray certainly doesn’t help decipher it. Yes, the girls are getting older — their fast-approaching 18th birthday is cause for celebration in darker quadrants of the Internet — but after a string of direct-to-video excursions, this latest film remains an off-putting assault of too-screwball comedy with glints of pathos. Loud and annoying, pic seems destined to connect with part of its teen/young girl audience in theaters but primarily in ancillary life, with only the Olsens brand preventing “New York Minute” from disappearing about that fast.
A lot of veteran comedy actors with “Saturday Night Live” or “SCTV” credentials lend their names to this nonsense, but don’t be fooled, they’re simply pocketing checks. The most aggravating part involves Andy Richter as a white guy adopted by Asians who affects a bad Fu Manchu accent, which would be more offensive if it weren’t so amateurish. To paraphrase another memorable sidekick: Help, Conan, help!
The plot, such as it is, involves a mismatched set of twins with a dead mom and absentee dad (radio host Dr. Drew Pinsky, who one would think could at least offer teen-sex advice). Buttoned-up and conservative Jane (Ashley) has a big speech to deliver in New York, hoping to land a scholarship abroad at Oxford, while slacker Roxy (Mary-Kate) simply wants to cut class — again — and attend a concert.
Jane winds up being pursued by Richter’s DVD-pirating buffoon, who needs a computer chip that’s been planted on her. As for Roxy, her Javert is a truant officer (poor Eugene Levy) patterned after the principal in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” — though the target audience can hardly be expected to remember a film released the year that the Olsen franchise was born.
That the two will not only repair their relationship but both acquire boyfriends in roughly 90 minutes goes without saying, though any parent unfortunate enough to follow kids into the theater will wish they had gone without watching.
The revelation here, if there is one, is that the two do look more mature, which might account for the several scenes of implied nakedness and an extended sequence in which they run through New York City clad only in a bathrobe and towel.
Dennie Gordon — a well-traveled episodic TV director whose features credits include the Amanda Bynes teen pic “What a Girl Wants” — employs lots of zooming camerawork and music attempting to create a kind of frenetic energy, which has become almost a prerequisite for such fare.
It’s ironic, in that context, that the few worthwhile moments involve the girls quietly talking about why their interaction soured — a big improvement over the stereophonic shrillness that accompanies most of their zany antics. Indeed, at times this feels like an all-live-action version of the Warner Bros. flop “Looney Tunes: Back in Action,” with the Olsens as Daffy and Bugs.
The cameo roster also includes Jack Osbourne and the punk pop band Simple Plan, though there’s little here to shake off the squeaky-clean image that the Olsens have cultivated. It’s worth noting, too, that they again share producing credit, as they have practically since the duo was old enough to gum food, capitalizing on their inexplicably wild popularity thanks to ABC’s “Full House.”
Having grown up onscreen, the Olsens are preparing to attend college, which seems as good a time as any to contemplate a logical next act. Because if there are any certainties about prepubescent girls, one is that they will invariably move on to newer models once their existing heroines begin to outgrow them.
Whatever the future holds, during the calmer exchange the twins actually exhibit a hint of what might be acting chops, meaning there isn’t much excuse for not at least exploring more finely tuned vehicles to keep the gravy train running.
“There is no bright side!” a frustrated Jane shrieks at one point.
For the Dualstar siblings in general, that’s probably not the case. In terms of “New York Minute,” truer words have seldom been spoken.