I just don’t understand the Ashton Kutcher thing. He always comes off as a dull-witted bed-head with zero discernible screen presence, and yet the offers keep rolling in. No Strings Attached, the first watchable movie from director Ivan Reitman in almost 20 years, boasts a crackerjack ensemble of up-and-coming stars dropping droll, nicely-naughty one-liners. Unfortunately, this killer supporting cast is stranded in the service of a vehicle for Kutcher and Natalie Portman, who summon eight different shades of bland while the party seems to be going on elsewhere.
The central question, can two people be “sex friends” without falling in love is entirely moot. These two characters are clearly head over heels for one another from the opening reel, and the only thing keeping them apart is the film’s annoying premise. Portman’s workaholic doctor refuses to commit to a relationship for no reason whatsoever except that there wouldn’t be a movie if she followed her heart.
The fun lies in the margins, with Greenberg’s Greta Gerwig and The Office’s Mindy Kaling all but begging for a spin-off of their own as Portman’s tart, way more interesting roommates. Kevin Kline carves some delicious ham as Kutcher’s lothario father, an over-the-hill sitcom actor with a penchant for younger women and Lil Wayne. Even the bit parts are given generous screen time, with Lake Bell working some weird OCD mojo and Abby Elliott dropping her Drew Barrymore impression into a scene that’s otherwise going nowhere.
It’s such a drag whenever Reitman cuts back to Kutcher and Portman’s affair. Kutcher’s just a touseled lump of inertia, and Portman is distractingly uncomfortable with the material’s raunchiness. I actually felt bad for her every time she had to say something dirty. She’s far too much the white swan to pull this one off, and Anne Hathaway pretty much played this role, quite smashingly, in last year’s Love and Other Drugs. You kinda get the sense Reitman packed the sidelines with ringers because he knew his leads couldn’t cut it.
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