Zac Efron, on the most confusing career path ever, needs to pick a lane


Zac Efron in “The Neighbors.” ( (Universal Pictures)

Zac Efron — and his abs — will be everywhere this weekend as he stars as an obnoxious dude in raunchy comedy “The Neighbors.” That’s not to be confused with when he recently appeared shirtless as an obnoxious dude in “That Awkward Moment.” Apparently, Efron is in his “bro” phase when it comes to choosing movie roles.

"High School Musical" (Disney Channel)
“High School Musical” (Disney Channel)

Hey, it makes sense — he’s 26 and, frankly, this seems a lot closer to his actual personality than his other roles. Only Efron is an unfortunate pattern: Every few years, he emerges as a different type of actor, only to quickly switch gears after a couple movies in each genre. Though no one wants to be typecast, it’s just as risky to swap back and forth between types of roles — if you keep shedding character identities and never looking back, eventually, you won’t seem right for any of them.

Efron is talented, but he’s on the verge of such a trap. For example, back in the day circa 2006, he was the the “singing and dancing guy.” That’s thanks to his breakout role in “High School Musical,” the Disney Channel original movie musical that shattered records and made Efron and his co-star/girlfriend, Vanessa Hudgens, overnight celebrities. (It didn’t hurt they were a real-life couple.) Disney quickly greenlit “High School Musical 2″ (which broke ratings records again) and then “High School Musical 3: Senior Year” made it to the big screen. In between, Efron starred as Link opposite Nikki Blonsky in “Hairspray,” solidifying his role as a musical actor, not to mention a triple threat.

Except then Efron promptly dropped out of a remake of “Footloose” (either fear of being typecast, or he read the terrible script) and tried a new realm to branch out: inoffensive, forgettable comedies. That included “17 Again,” in which he played a younger version of Matthew Perry going back to high school, and “New Year’s Eve,” the very unnecessary ensemble sequel to “Valentine’s Day.” Neither were awful, but neither made much of an impact.

Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling in "The Lucky One" (Alan Markfield/Warner Bros.)
Zac Efron and Taylor Schilling in “The Lucky One” (Alan Markfield/Warner Bros.)

Next, goofy comedies were gone, and it was The Serious Actor, both in mainstream movies (tear-jerker “Charlie St. Cloud,” Nicholas Sparks adaptation “The Lucky One”) and smaller indie films (“The Paperboy,” “Me and Orson Welles”). Critics gave Efron credit for attempting a more mature role — even if he didn’t exactly win any awards for these portrayals.

That all would have been fine, since it seemed like he was trying to grow as an actor. But just as soon as he appeared to get serious, those movies were gone in favor of “That Awkward Moment” and “The Neighbors.” That’s when the career path became just confusing — what’s the point of getting far away from musicals, ditching family-friendly comedies and avoiding serious roles all to play a dumb frat guy?

And now it looks like that won’t even stick — his next project is legal thriller “The Associate,” based on the John Grisham novel about a lawyer blackmailed into stealing information from his law firm. So should we assume superhero movies are next?

Again, it’s completely logical for Efron to try a bunch of different things. But by going in these short-lived phases, it simply makes him confusing to audiences — is he the rom-com guy? The frat bro? It’s no secret that he hasn’t had as much big-screen success as one might have expected based on his worldwide popularity during the “High School Musical” phase. As of now, he still has fans that are willing to follow him anywhere, but at the moment, he needs to pick a lane first so they’ll know where to find him.


Charlie Tahan, left, and Zac Efron are shown in a scene from “Charlie St. Cloud”. (Universal Pictures, Diyah Pera/AP)
Emily Yahr covers pop culture and entertainment for the Post. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyYahr.
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