“Friends with Benefits” Mate in Crude Romantic Comedy
Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma (Natalie Portman) have been close since they forged an enduring friendship at sleep-away summer camp as adolescents. Back then, she was the shoulder he leaned on during his parents’ divorce, although she did rebuff his advances when he attempted to make an awkward pass.
Emma politely explained that she just wasn’t an affectionate person, since she believed that, “People aren’t meant to be together.” As a result, it’s no surprise that their relationship remained Platonic for the next 14 years, through high school and college, and the launch of their professional careers.
Currently, they both live in Los Angeles, where Emma’s been putting in 80 hours weeks as a resident at Westwood Teaching Hospital. Always on call, the very busy doctor simply doesn’t really have the time to date, even if she were inclined. As for Adam, he’s an aspiring scriptwriter employed by a Hollywood studio.
The plot thickens soon after he’s dumped by his girlfriend, Vanessa (Ophelia Lovibond), who leaves him for his famous father, Alvin Franklin (Kevin Kline), the star of a hit TV show called “Great Scott!” Despondent Adam ventures down to his local watering hole where he cries in his beer about being stuck in his dad’s shadow.
And on the advice of his street-smart bartender (Ludacris), he decides to proposition every female whose number he has stored in his cell phone (“Do you have a place where I can put my boner?”) until one finally invites him over. The next day, he awakens hung over and naked in an unfamiliar apartment, with no memory of what just transpired. Turns out it’s Emma’s place, and she’s less concerned with being respected in the morning than with establishing the ground rules, namely, that they’ll “just use each other for sex at all hours of the day and night, nothing else!”
Can two lifelong friends suddenly start sleeping together without developing deeper feelings? That is the carnal proposition posed by No Strings Attached, a romantic comedy in reverse from the legendary Ivan Reitman, director of such screen classics as Stripes (1981) Ghostbusters (1984) and Twins (1988). For instead of following the genre’s familiar formula where the stars remain chaste until they’re ready to ride off “happily ever after” into the proverbial sunset together, here the question is whether love will blossom in spite of their having already mated repeatedly.
Unfortunately, No Strings Attached suffers from two fatal flaws. First, there’s precious little nudity other than marshmallow-assed Ashton Kutcher’s dimpled derriere (not my fantasy), which seems a tad tame for a flick revolving around a couple of constantly-copulating “Friends with Benefits.”
Secondly, the film trades in a terribly coarse brand of humor ostensibly-designed to shock the audience. From the word “WHORE” emblazoned on the panties of a college coed at a pajama party, to an Asian stagehand (Matthew Moy) inexplicably exposing himself to young actresses on a set, to an East Indian M.D. (Mindy Kaling) referring to herself and her colleagues as “dirty, dirty sluts,” to another doctor’s (Greta Gerwig) describing her period as “a crime scene in my pants,” every joke is cruder than last and fails to elicit any laughs.
A vulgar exercise in depravity radiating such bad karma that you’ll need to take a cleansing shower right after watching it.
Poor (0 stars)
Rated R for sexuality, profanity and drug use.
Running time: 110 Minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
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