It’s right there in the title: the “re-education” of Molly Singer. With that built-in caveat, you’d be tempted to think that Andy Palmer’s “The Re-Education of Molly Singer” would provide some necessary life lessons, a few shifts in perspective, an overarching theme about personal growth. Think again.

For the titular Molly Singer (former “Girlboss” Britt Robertson), college was “four years of endless parties.” (How, exactly, she managed to turn that experience into grades good enough to get into law school is just one of many unanswered questions that linger in this messy “comedy.”) When we catch up with her eight years on, she’s still basking in the relative glow of being really, really popular when she was barely an adult. That’s not much to hang your hat on, and Molly is learning that the hard way: She’s massively in debt, screwing up at work, and it seems as if her only friend is her old college BFF Ollie (Nico Santos, trapped in a thankless sidekick role).

Such a setup has all the makings of classic comedy, and Palmer’s film pulls liberally from a particular kind of playbook, offering up an inverted “Never Been Kissed” by way of a gender-swapped “Back to School.” Once Molly truly screws up her law firm gig, her brassy boss Brenda (Jaime Pressly, often quite funny) gives her one last option: Molly will go back to her old alma mater (a series of convoluted lies will make that possible) and use her literally old-school charm to bring Brenda’s outcast son Elliot (Ty Simpkins) under her wing, making him popular basically by association.

But while the initial perimeters of “The Re-Education of Molly Singer” are simple and perfect for some laughs and character growth, little of that happens here. Instead, Palmer and screenwriters Todd M. Friedman and Kevin Haskin offer up an unfunny, bloated, and often needlessly cruel spin on what could have been a fluffy little comedy with some genuine life lessons to spare.

Consider its treatment of Barnett University football star Demetrious Moss (Jerome Beazer), whose ankle is busted up (and career presumably ended), care of a bizarre accident that’s only ever-so-vaguely Elliot’s fault. It’s this accident that has turned Elliot into a social pariah, but while it’s not even Demetrious who is out there spreading the news — the whole thing goes viral without his control — Molly soon turns her attention on Demetrious, digging up alleged blackmail material (it seems to be an innocuous video of the football star dancing, but the implication is that it somehow exposes his sexual orientation, something worthy of being mocked, something bad and dangerous) to force him to tell the world he’s not mad at Elliot. It’s cheap and baffling and mean, and it doesn’t do anything to further the narrative.

It’s also indicative of a film all too eager to lay out reasons why Molly needs to be “re-educated” that then never actually does that. Your characters can be mean, they can be catty, they can be duplicitous, but if the entire thematic frame of your film is built around the concept of personal change and reflection, they can’t do that stuff and then learn nothing from it. Molly’s “re-education” is mostly incidental, the product of something having to tie up its two-hour (!!) running time.

The bloat applies to other areas as well, as plot points that should be tight are needlessly drawn out, like a subplot involving Elliot’s sadness over his dad recently passing away (trauma is so hot right now, don’t you know?) or a mind-boggling sequence about getting Molly and Ollie student housing (that mostly exists as a way to explain how they end up in a party house). And there’s also the sense that there’s a much darker movie lurking underneath the surface of “The Re-Education of Molly Singer,” one in which Molly’s obvious alcoholism (and that of just about everyone else around her at Barnett) isn’t treated as a cheap, recurring joke.

That’s not to say that’s a film anyone wants to see — again, a flip on “Never Been Kissed”? A twist on “Back to School”? That sounds fun, and funny. Make that movie, or at least make any movie that has even a modicum of grace for its characters. Instead, Friedman and Haskin lean into oddly raunchy moments (like Brenda taking her son to a strip club) and weird attempts at political humor (a running gag about QAnon devotees seems designed to turn everyone off).

Perhaps the film’s very DNA is to blame: Palmer is best known for his horror features, while the film is co-writer Friedman’s second feature credit (he previously wrote the Alex Pettyfer-starring crime drama “Collection”) and his partner Haskin’s first feature not centered on a faith-based message or a horror-tinged plot. None of those credits scream “female-centric comedy,” and it shows.

One part that works — perhaps the only part that works — is the casting of Robertson and Simpkins. Robertson’s natural charisma and the verve she throws into portraying Molly is obvious — there are many moments when you can see exactly why people loved Molly in college and Simpkins adds real texture to a part that could easily just be “burgeoning incel dude.” Their chemistry as unlikely pals is frothy — and, for all of Palmer’s missteps, he wisely never tries to build in any kind of romantic fizz between the pair — and even in its worst moments, the central duo battle hard to keep the film afloat. The rest of it? It could have learned something from them.

Grade: C-

Lionsgate will release “The Re-Education of Molly Singer” in theaters and on various VOD platforms on Friday, September 29.

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