Friday, November 30, 2012

Cinema 2005: Sophomoric season's greetings

"Just Friends" comes at you loud and over the top. Scores of high-pitched screams puncture the soundtrack while low frequency sound effects accompany every groin shot and pratfall, of which there are plenty. Subtlety is definitely not director Roger Kumble’s strong suit. Nor is wit the forte of screenwriter Tex Davis.

The movie opens in New Jersey with caricatured high school students who are almost as ruthless as the real thing, but lack the humanity present in even the jerkiest of real teenagers. Protagonist Chris (Ryan Reynolds) is an overweight boy with an orthodontic retainer. He is “best friends” with Jamie (Amy Smart), the hot ditz who dates the football team yet remains unaware of the desires her playful wrestling awakens in forlorn Chris.

After the painful initial set-up, 10 years pass before we rejoin Chris, now a svelte master of the MTV universe living in L.A. The movie conveniently omits any reference to college, presumably because that would alienate its target audience. By now Chris has learned how to use others before or while being used by them, certainly a worthy skill on either coast, but nothing that would make his character sympathetic.

The cast members perform as if they had skipped the SNL skit acting seminar. Unfortunately, there is a yawning chasm between aimless shtick and comedic character acting, with the emphasis here on yawning. Chris does have a few darned good lines, but Reynolds delivers them as if he is too embarrassed to try to salvage something from this tripe.

Chris makes it home for Christmas for the first time since graduation – purely by accident and in the midst of a most improbable business trip. Notwithstanding its original release date and any holiday scenery, “Just Friends” does not qualify as a Christmas flick – heck, it barely qualifies as a flick. Oh yes, did I mention that Chris arrives with the country's hottest teen female pop star, Samantha James (Anna Faris) hanging on his arm and poking at his crotch? Faris does a grand job of making us cringe at her lack of musical talent while she tantalizes more like a terrorist than a temptress.

The movie ostensibly creates comedy around the issue of fulfillment. Is real success a mindless career in a faraway city – portrayed as a faraway career in a mindless city – or does true happiness follow from more modest joys, like a homelife with one’s high school crush, in Chris’s case Jamie.

Chris decides to extend his emergency layover in New Jersey because Jamie is now impressed with his trim torso and appliance-free smile. He feels he deserves to "boink" his old buddy, to employ the film’s vernacular.

But our nouveau Kalifornicator has woefully lost touch with his roots and can’t seem to hit his stride in the Garden State. Whereas Chris’s scourge of yore, a crude jock with a mean streak, has fallen hopelessly into male pattern beer drinking, another scorned suitor from back in the day, Dustin (Chris Klein) appears to be more than a match for our Left Coast professional brown-noser. Dustin has reinvented himself as the ultimate woman pleaser: a sensitive stud. His sincerity is the one weapon Chris cannot match, until a twist occurs in the story, which doesn't merit being called a plot.

After all the noise "Just Friends" ends with a whimper. Still, I would have felt better about the whole silly business had Chris ultimately given Jamie the boot in favor of boogying with and boinking Samantha.

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