November 28, 2005

Just Friends2 1/2 Stars

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In the tradition of buddy romance flicks like When Harry Met Sally, Just Friends contributes nothing new. The film, directed by Roger Kumble (Cruel Intentions) is a joyously cliched goofball about being haunted by the insecure chubby guy in all of us. Chris (Ryan Reynolds), a former fattie turned L.A. hotshot, returns home to New Jersey for Christmas. We see Chris’ façade of cool vanish when he runs into the love of his life, Jamie (Amy Smart), who has a history of keeping him in the “friend zone.” Chris puts off plans to party in Paris in order to win Jamie back, yet the increasing awkwardness of his efforts are more frustrating than amusing. The culture clash he experiences is overshadowed by how everyone in the town still treats him like his former jolly self. In trying to shake this obsolete persona, he undertakes failure after failure, often with painful physical repercussions. For instance, vaulting down a snowy hill like a bobsled while strapped into a stretcher and landing on his face or taking a tazer to the groin.

The movie is carried largely by Reynolds’ facial expressions, which devolve from cheeky and enjoyable to snarky and irksome. Clearly wanting to move beyond Van Wilder, he invokes the physical comedy of Bill Murray and Jim Carey, and at times these homage’s are painfully obvious. Reynolds, who can hold his own even among comedic greats like Wesley Snipes (don’t see Blade: Trinity) is not enough to carry the weak plot. Yet there are gems. His horny 18 – year-old brother, played by the precocious Chris Marquette (The Girl Next Door) adds a terrific dynamic sidekick and great sparing partner. Let’s admit it. A grown man getting into a bitchy slap – fight with his younger brother is viscerally amusing. The brother has to baby – sit Chris’ new superstar client while Chris tries to woo his old flame. Anna Faris (Scary Movie), who played a similar role as a bubbly buffoon Britney Spears type in Lost in Translation, is a rising pop star whose obnoxious traits are infectiously enjoyable. She’s a hyped – up parody of self – important stars like Jessica Simpson, and this perhaps might be the film’s most important achievement. One scene where she is loopy on painkillers, gargling a tubeful of toothpaste murmuring, “I’m a blueberry!” and licking Reynolds’ face stands out among the rest.

The film is full of lovable cliches, yet that’s all it seems to offer. The plot is less a progression of maturing characters as much as a flimsy rope stringing together pearls of funny facial tics and silly antics. But do you care? At least it doesn’t fall into the trap of sentimentalizing. Just Friends is, after all, technically a holiday film, yet goes out of its way to poke fun at all the saccharine facets of Christmas.

The movie functions more as a collage of better films such as Scrooged, Grosse Point Blank and There’s Something About Mary, the latter being nearly identical in many respects. While Friends doesn’t and shouldn’t take itself too seriously, it certainly seems uninterested in providing descent closure to the movie. Chris’ competition for Jamie, the irritatingly perfect Dusty (Chris Klein), easily self – destructs and leaves a clear and easy path for Chris to walk down. In short, the boy gets the girl, loses his cold, sterile L.A. ethics and becomes a better person, but all of this culminates too quickly to notice, or even care. Just Friends is a poor man’s There’s Something About Mary, but either way you’re not expecting greatness when you walk into the theater. In fact you’ll laugh, but you’ll laugh at yourself for doing so.

Archived article by Jonah Green
Sun Staff Writer