No Strings Attached
dir Ivan Reitman
scr Elizabeth Meriwether
prd Jeffrey Clifford, Joe Medjuck, Ivan Reitman
with Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline, Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges, Jake Johnson, Greta Gerwig, Lake Bell, Ophelia Lovibond, Mindy Kaling, Ben Lawson, Olivia Thirlby, Cary Elwes
release US 21.Jan.11, UK 25.Feb.11
11/US Paramount 1h48
No Strings Attached
Friends with benefits: Portman and Kutcher

kline bridges bell
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
No Strings Attached An intelligent script and smart direction help lift this romantic comedy above the fray. It doesn't tell us anything new, and the central gimmick isn't particularly insightful, but the cast keeps the tone sharp and funny.

Adam (Kutcher) and Emma (Portman) have spent 15 years flirting at the random points where their lives have crossed. Now living in Los Angeles, they meet again and decide what they really need is sex without a relationship. Adam's pals (Bridges and Johnson) are jealous, while Emma's colleague (Lawson) believes he's the right man for her instead. But things start getting complicated when Adam's ex (Lovibond) moves in with his star-writer dad (Kline), and Emma starts thinking about relationships as her sister (Thirlby) gets married.

The central question is whether two people can have sex without falling in love, which is a pretty obvious question when you're in Hollywood rom-com world. We never have even the slightest doubt where this film is heading, which lets us sit back and enjoy the ride. Even though writer Meriwether tries to disguise the formula, it's still here, but Reitman does a great job of distracting us with wacky side characters at every step.

And yes, the supporting ensemble is terrific, as everyone gets the chance to steal a scene and chomp on some scenery along the way. Meanwhile in the blander lead roles, Kutcher and Portman are allowed to create some strong chemistry while drawing out the script's offbeat humour. They also get some strong dramatic moments along the way. Both of them are hugely watchable, and their somewhat severe height difference adds a zing of improv-style humour to the dialog ("When we stand next to each other it looks like he's kidnapping me").

So even if the film is at least 20 minutes too long, it's smart and sharp enough to keep us laughing without needing to resort to cheap laughs or gross-out gags. Most of the jokes are character-based, which is refreshing at a time when comedy screenwriters don't usually pay attention to how people really interact. Some of the plot points are extremely contrived, but there are plenty of hilarious scenes along the way to make up for it.

cert 15 themes, language, sexuality 18.Jan.11

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© 2011 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall