No Strings Attached (***)

Legendary director Ivan Reitman has made some comedy classics, including Meatballs, Stripes, and Ghostbusters (hell, I even liked Ghostbusters II) during his career.  His latest film, No Strings Attached, is far from a new classic, but it’s certainly better than some of the things he’s been doing recently (*cough*My Super Ex-Girlfriend*cough*), and this romantic comedy hits enough right notes to be labeled a success.  It’s got a very strong premise for edgy comedy (even if it doesn’t really deliver on that and is content to be more sitcom-like in its approach), decent execution, and enough charm to cover up most of its flaws.  I’d never suggest that this flick is anything special (or that star Natalie Portman is doing anything even remotely similar to her extraordinary work in Black Swan), but considering how bad the movie could have been, this is a pleasant surprise.  I went in expecting nothing, and got an above average rom-com, and that’s good enough for me to recommend to you.

The plot is your standard friends into lovers story (shocking, I know).  Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma (Portman) were childhood acquaintances who met once or twice more as they grew up, but never really knew each other too well.  That changes when Adam is dumped by his girlfriend for his father (Kevin Kline).  He gets drunk and tries to sleep with any girl in his phonebook.  He gets to Emma’s number, she comes to get him, he passes out at her place, and after being made fun of by her roommates (including Greta Gerwig and Mindy Kaling) the next morning Adam and Emma have some no strings attached sex.  This leads to them essentially becoming friends with benefits.  Both are into it at first, but Adam quickly starts to get feelings, which Emma rejects.  When he can’t keep doing the just sex thing anymore, Emma is forced to reevaluate her feelings.  The concept is better than the plot, but it’s pretty run of the mill.

Nothing great, nothing awful.  Rom-com fans will get what they need, though.

I don’t hate Kutcher like many do, but he doesn’t bring much to the role here.  Granted, he doesn’t need to, but he seems content to just coast along on his charm.  My only issue is that he’s incredibly bland, making it hard to believe that he’d be worth Portman’s character (spoiler alert) falling for.  The same can somewhat be said of Portman in her role, but her character is supposed to be emotionally distant and quirky, so it plays to her strengths.  She’ll never win an award for this, but she’s certainly fine in the role.  The movie features a rather startling good supporting cast, and manages to more or less waste them all.  The flick is better than you’d expect from Ashton Kutcher, but from one co-starring the aforementioned Gerwig, Kaling, and Kline, as well as Lake Bell, Cary Elwes, and Olivia Thirlby?  Not quite.  Elwes and Thirlby are especially wasted, though the latter gets to help Portman’s character see the light in the third act.  Bell, Gerwig, and Kline are the most memorable characters in the entire film, but it’s not saying too much, as they’re just a bit more unique than the other cookie cutter characters.

Reitman does an acceptable job directing the film, but no one will accuse him of pushing himself.  The pacing is very good though, so credit where credit is due.  The weakness is the script, which is credited to Elizabeth Meriwether and Michael Samonek.  It’s not bad per say, but it definitely feels like a PG-13 script punched up with dirty jokes to get an R rating (the exact opposite of what usually happens).  The irony is that the dirty stuff is the funniest stuff, and the screenplay itself is very average otherwise and more conservative than it lets on.

No Strings Attached works because you do end up rooting for a happy ending, and that doesn’t happen nearly enough with romantic comedies these days.  I won’t ever argue that this is a real good movie, but it’s a “good enough” movie that probably would have been a better fit to come out around Valentine’s Day, but seen in the dregs of January, it comes across as better than it has any right to be.  I don’t know that you’ll love the film, but I’m fairly confident that you won’t hate it, so take that for what it’s worth.