Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline
Directed by: Ivan Reitman (“My Super Ex Girlfriend”)
Written by: Elizabeth Meriwether (debut)
To the average moviegoer, terms like “romantic comedy” and the less chivalrous-sounding “chick flick” are probably synonyms. A few clever filmmakers have discovered ways to divert from the typical clichés and create those rare date movies men and women can sit through without wondering why the hell they’re on a date with someone who enjoys this crap. In the last five years: “Lars and the Real Girl,” “Ghost Town,” “(500) Days of Summer,” and almost everything directed by Judd Apatow have been noteworthy contributions to the generally watered-down genre.
Then there are movies like “No Strings Attached,” a rom-com so desperate to be the next “The 40 Year Old Virgin” or “Knocked Up” (and thus peeling away the “chick flick” label) it only manages sporadic moments of originality before reverting back into safety-first Kate Hudson-mode.
It’s unfortunate, since “Strings” is starred by Natalie Portman, who comes off the most impressive role of her career in “Black Swan.” She rarely flaunts her comedic chops, much less in a rom-com as easily accessible as this. Here, she plays Emma, a cynical medical student-in-residence who opts for a casual sex-only relationship with Adam (Kutcher), a soft-hearted TV production assistant she’s known since his horny teenage years. Of course, with copulation comes those icky things called feelings and before another box of Trojans opens, the sexcapades have turned into fully-clothed spooning sessions (a no-no in “friends with benefits” etiquette).
While Portman is still charming despite the lightweight and occasionally raunchy dialogue by first-time screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether, the same can’t be said for Kutcher’s coyness. At least in a movie like “(500) Days of Summer,” actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt was believable as a genuinely nice guy who falls in love with an icy princess. Kutcher’s mushy façade, however, is pitiful. It’s hard to accept him as a hopeless romantic when he’s drunk-dialing girls and asking them if they know of a place where he can put his boner.
At times, director Ivan Reitman (“My Super Ex Girlfriend”) seems like he might cross the line and actually give these characters spines. But Reitman, who has never really gotten any dirtier than campers reading smut in “Meatballs,” is out of his element. Forcing the issue only makes matters worse, especially in a movie that mistakes a little fun between the sheets with edge.