Welcome to the 1000th movie (OK, I’m not that sure of the number) about a guy and a girl who say they’re just in it for the sex. That way they can stay friends. Oh brother! You saw it already this year in No Strings Attached with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher slogging through the clichéd motions. Up to the plate in Friends With Benefits are Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. That’s the good news. Timberlake (the laugh king of 21st-century SNL hosts and an actor to reckon with in The Social Network) and Kunis (graduated with honors from That 70’s Show to the screen glories of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Black Swan) bring the sizzle and dazzling comic timing. The movie? Not so much.
Director Will Gluck (Easy A), who wrote the script with Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, had the promising idea to have the characters mock the idea that they’re in this sappy romcom. But soon they’re slaves to the stereotypes they mean to tweak. Timberlake’s Dylan is a GQ art director, newly transplanted from LA to New York. Kunis’ Jamie is the headhunter who got him the job. He’s laidback; she’s in your face. He has intimacy issues; she masks hers by cursing a blue streak. But Jamie blinks when she swears so Dylan knows she’s really vulnerable. Aww. Their banter is fun at the start until it becomes relentless. It takes family issues to lower their energy levels. Dylan has a dad (Richard Jenkins) with Alzheimer’s. Jamie has a free-loving mom (the delicious Patricia Clark) who won’t tell her who her father is. Is Dylan gay? The GQ sports editor (a hilarious Woody Harrelson) invites him to “troll for cock,” plus Dylan likes Harry Potter and a finger up his ass during sex. Just when you think Gluck may be considering a spin on Last Tango in Paris (the darkest of all friends-with-benefits films), Hollywood rears its safe, sappy head and starts spooning out the Pretty Woman sugar. One romantic flash mob scene (in Times Square) is followed by another (in Grand Central Station). That’s two too many. Despite a pair of live wires in the leads, Friends With Benefits is just not enough.
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