It’s an old plot. Two pretty people with perfect teeth, great hair and to-die-for bodies meet.
They’re glamorous, have great jobs and their stars are rising. Neither wants a relationship because a) the last several went south, and b) who has time anyway?
Like magnet to steel, there is irresistible attraction. What to do? What to do?
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The “what to do” is found in the title. The sex sizzles. Love begins to creep in and sets up the conflict that one must have to do a romantic comedy. Stay or leave? Can real friendship without the benefits really happen?
This isn’t a spoiler. You already know how this ends. A leads to B then to C until the movie winds through the alphabet to get to happy ending Z. Whether a film such as Friends with Benefits is tolerable is often found in the casting and the characters on the periphery.
I hate comparing films, but didn’t we already have to do this earlier this year with No Strings Attached. This is where casting is critical. Natalie Portman is a great actress but not for this kind of work, and while he is charismatic and is working on getting an actual personality, Ashton Kutcher is still too TV to carry a movie. The film had Kevin Kline in a small role, but he’s not in it enough to help.
The result: No Strings Attached strung us along, got all tangled up and bombed big-time.
At least Friends with Benefits has the benefit of better casting and — in parts — better writing. Better yes, but writer/director Will Gluck (Easy A) and two TV-experience only co-writers still give you a TV sitcom kind of movie. So the benefit of good casting is critical.
Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis are a better fit for this kind of plot than Portman and Kutcher. Both are beautiful people and talented actors. Him more than her. When Timberlake stretches like he did in The Social Network and Alpha Dog, he’s very good.
However, it's only toward the end of the film when the writers give him a chance to show his chops.
Kunis’ best asset is eyes that let you see deep into her soul. Her talent is the ability to get you into them. When given something to do, Kunis is exceptionally good. Unfortunately, this isn’t the role.
While the two lead characters do their predictable dance, the supporting characters hold everything up. Woody Harrelson, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins and Jenna Elfman chew up the scenery and give life to a predictable and potentially lifeless plot.
They are the benefits of Friends with Benefits.
Mr. Movie rating: 3 1/2 stars
Rated R for sex, mature themes and language. It opens Friday, July 22 at Regal's Columbia Center 8 and at the Fairchild Cinemas 12.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.