Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion
That film suffered from Ashton Kutcher’s bungled attempt to be charming enough to land Natalie Portman. Well, in No Strings Attached 2: Black Swan, Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis step into the lead roles, which should mean this is the version that audiences saw the first and only time they needed too.
First of all, both of them are far more likable and attractive (beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, sure, but that’s what I’m beholding). The supporting cast of Richard Jenkins, Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson and Jenna Elfman are great. There’s even a very funny recurring bit with the Flying Tomato himself: Shaun White.
But after all of the smoke had cleared and the credits had rolled, despite a screening audience that hooted and hollered throughout the proceedings, I was left scratching my head. The film starts with two people attempting a sexual relationship without all of the emotional baggage a real intimacy entails. Then once that has passed, we’re introduced to their parents who have created these emotional wrecks either through divorce and Alzheimer’s or living life like the ’70s never ended. Then our leads cross an emotional boundary and instantly freak out … which leads us to the inevitable grand gesture from the gentleman (so heavily hinted at in their initial meeting) that breaks the tension and allows our protagonists a chance to say that they’re both screwed up but they’ll only be happy if they’re screwed up together.
It’s like three or four different romantic comedies thrown into a blender and spit out onto the screen. No matter how many nice moments there are, or how many decent performances are delivered, the overall result feels like you’ve gorged yourself on an all-you-can-eat rom-com buffet and now have to roll yourself home.
There are also a number of dated references (Kris Kross, Capt. Sully) and an incessant need to break the fourth wall – even going so far as to create a fake rom-com movie starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones. This leads to Kunis and Timberlake complaining about how the genre manipulates the audience, right before the film does exactly what they’re talking about, over and over again. The added scene at the end of the credits is just more of the same, showing “out takes” from the fake rom-com.
Really, boiling it all down, Friends with Benefits simply tries too hard to be so many things and fails to do any one of them exactly right, creating a dense film that makes each of the 109 minutes tick by a little bit too slowly. The cast may be charming but this is the kind of stuff you start watching on cable halfway through and leave on the TV while you update Facebook. Unless you’re just dying to see Timberlake and Kunis get PG-13 naked in a R-rated film, these are some friends you can do without.
Friends with Benefits hits theaters on July 22, 2011 and is rated R for sexual content and language.