NO STRINGS ATTACHED
** (out of 5)
January 21, 2011
Natalie Portman as EMMA
Ashton Kutcher as ADAM
Kevin Kline as ALVIN
Cary Elwes as DR. METZNER
Greta Gerwig as PATRICE
Lake Bell as LUCY
Olivia Thirlby as KATIE
Chris “Ludacris” Bridges as WALLACE
Mindy Kaling as SHIRA
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
While I have a bit of a reputation for being a big fan of blockbuster event films and typical “guy movies,” I do like a good romantic comedy as well. But that’s the catch… it has to be a good one.
To me, the worst kind of romantic comedy is one that is made by people who don’t appreciate the genre. The result is a fractured attempt at redefining the genre to meet their own tastes rather than stick with the formula that works. And after “Knocked Up” cleaned up at the box office a few years ago, Hollywood seems to have been given the go-ahead to throw profanity and sex into an otherwise formulaic film and consider it innovative.
This attitude is what makes “No Strings Attached” such a dud.
The film stars Natalie Portman as Emma, an up-and-coming doctor who doesn’t want a boyfriend. But she does want to get laid now and then. She turns to her buddy Adam (Ashton Kutcher) to be her “friend with benefits” but is determined to keep emotionally distant. The problem is that in Hollywood, emotion always gets in the way.
I don’t blame the cast. They’re not hitting it out of the park with this film, but they’re perfectly acceptable in a romantic comedy framework. Natalie Portman is fine, though Golden Globe win or not, she’s hit-or-miss with her acting in my opinion. She’s matched perfectly, from a delivery level in this film, with Ashton Kutcher, who can turn out some good leading man roles.
The rest of the cast is impressive on paper but completely wasted on screen. You have seasoned veterans like Kevin Kline hamming it up as Adam’s oversexed dad, and of course you have the couple’s respective best friends to serve as exposition outlets. This is the greatest waste of the film. Greta Gerwig, Olivia Thirlby, Mindy Kaling, Lake Bell and even Chris “Ludacris” Bridges have a few good lines, but as an ensemble they’re spread dangerously thin and barely serve as walk-on roles.
The real blame is on Ivan Reitman, who has given us some fantastic films in the past. Remember the 80s with “Stripes” and “Ghostbusters”? These were as influential to a generation as anything John Hughes made. But recently, Reitman has been cranking out duds, like “Father’s Day,” “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” and “Evolution.” The man has no control over the script, and thus the film suffers.
The script is a bloody mess, featuring a string of terrible, awkward scenes, including a bizarre drunk moment where Emma screams at a rival that she looks orange (which she doesn’t) and another moment when she asks Adam if she should put on make-up when it’s clear that she has her professionally painted Portman face.
The worst scene, though, features the three female roomies (and their gay buddy, of course, ‘cause we can’t lose that rom com cliche) are sacked out on the couch because they’re all having their periods. There’s literally three women of menstruation age in this scene, and at no point during the production did the actresses say to Reitman that while cycles may synchronize, women don’t really turn into chocolate-swilling, Pamprin-popping psychopaths… at least not as stupidly as they do in this overblown Saturday Night Live sketch makes it out to be.
And speaking of “Saturday Night Live,” the writing is so trying to emulate a Judd Apatow comedy that Portman becomes nothing more than a caricature of her SNL digital short “Natalie Raps.” The movie tries to flip the misogynist tables, but we end up with a shallow, emotionally crippled character that’s utterly unlikable. This one is just a girl rather than a one-joke sit com dude.
In the end, it seems like Ivan Reitman is trying to channel Garry Marshall in his later career, trying to use his 80s awesomeness to emerge from 21st-century obscurity. To be honest, Reitman should take some advice from his son Jason on how to make an innovative film.
If you’re going to see a Natalie Portman film in the theaters this weekend, see “Black Swan.”