© 2011 Ray Wong
It seems like raunchy romantic comedies are in vogue these days, possibly to lure the elusive male audiences who wouldn't be caught dead watching a romcom without a girlfriend or wife. No Strings Attached follows that recipe, but the dish doesn't really taste that great.
Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma (Natalie Portman) have known each other since they were fourteen, then again during college. Years later, they bump into each other again in Los Angeles. He's now an assistant writer on a Glee-like high school musical show, and she has started her residency at Westwood Hospital. Their lives seem to go in two different directions. Until one day, after learning his father is having sex with his ex-girlfriend, Adam gets drunk and calls every woman in his contact list and ask them to have sex with him. He wakes up in the morning, naked, at Emma's apartment.
Soon they become "sex friends." Clearly they adore each other and they have great sex together, but Emma is resistant of the idea of having anything more serious. When Adam gets too close, Emma suggests that they start fooling around with other people. But jealousy gets in the way, and they end up sleeping together again. Soon, Adam realizes he truly loves Emma, and he wants more. He crosses the line, and Emma puts a stop in their non-relationship. He warns her that she will never see him again.
Fresh off her brilliant role in Black Swan, Natalie Portman phones in her performance. Don't get me wrong. Ms. Portman is just as lovely, gorgeous, and talented, but there's not much for her to do with this underwritten role. If Emma was a dude, we'd have called her a pig and told Adam to stay away from her as far as possible. Talk about reverse sexism.
Ashton Kutcher (Killers) has done one dud after another, more or less playing the same role (with different jobs), specially in his romantic comedies. Interestingly, he's playing the "girl" part in this: he's the sensitive, forlorn, lovesick romantic. Though he shows a good emotional range (from vulnerability to being hurt) while playing a generally happy person, there's still plenty of room for him to grow as an actor -- he's not quite there yet. And I'm saying this as a compliment.
Kevin Kline (The Conspirator) plays Adam's immature, egomaniacal father who is a famous writer/star (think John Cleese). His role is such a caricature it's hard to take it seriously. Cary Elwes (SAW) is completely wasted in this movie. What exactly is the purpose of his role? And why did they cast Elwes in it? It could have been played by any actor, me even. That's how trivial his role is.
Lake Bell (Little Murder) is fun playing Adam's socially awkward colleague. Greta Gerwig (Northern Comfort) has a nice supporting role playing Emma's roommate. Jake Johnson (Get Him to the Greek) and Ludicris (Gamer) are forgettable as Adam's sidekicks.
The script by first-time screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether shows her inexperience. First, it's bogged down by unnecessary backstories, which highlights one of the glaring problems of the story: coincidence. Sure, I can understand Adam and Emma meet again in college when she returns home to Michigan. But years later, they just happen to both be in Los Angeles? Who goes to MIT and then does their residency in LA? Other coincidences, done for dramatic purposes, include the hooking up of Adam's father and ex-girlfriend. The plot really stretches its believability.
But the biggest sin of the story is there's no motivation for Emma's reactions, and why she pushes Adam, the man she admits is "the catch," away except for a superficial reason ("I don't want to get hurt"). Are you serious? Not to mention the on again, off again "relationship" between Adam and Emma becomes hiring. As a comedy, it's not that funny either, except for a few scenes. The secondary characters all have their respective roles to play, and they are all stereotypical and cliched. None of them are really believable. Simply put, everything seems forced and contrived, and it just isn't that funny despite a few bright spots.
Director Ivan Reitman (My Super Ex-Girlfriend) tends to do lukewarm comedies such as Six Days Seven Nights, and this movie is no different. It feels long despite its runtime of 110 minutes. It drags in the middle when nothing interesting really happens. He bogs down the scenes with unfunny scenarios, cliches, and stereotypical characters. The pace is off as well.
We know given the right material, Natalie Portman could be brilliant. And all Ashton Kutcher has to do is to stand there and act pretty, and we'll buy it. Unfortunately, this isn't good enough to string us along.
Stars: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline, Cary Elwes, Greta Gerwig, Lake Bell, Olivia Thirlby, Ludacris, Jake M. Johnson, Mindy Kaling
Director: Ivan Reitman
Writers: Elizabeth Meriwether, Michael Samonek
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, language, drug use
Running Time: 110 minutes
Script – 5
Performance – 6
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 6.1 out of 10