Review: “No Strings Attached” Amusing But Crass

No Strings Attached,” the new romcom starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher as a pair of “sex friends” is occasionally amusing, but is also pretty coarse, two-dimensional and lacking any tension.

Portman stars as Emma, a resident at a Los Angeles hospital, who lives with three colleagues and puts all her energy into her work. She doesn’t care for intimacy, but does need a periodic romp. Over the course of 15 years, Emma has three “what’re the odds” encounters with Adam (Kutcher), a former fratboy and son of a sitcom legend, who is struggling to make his mark as a TV writer.

Adam one day discovers that his father, played by a fantastically preening Kevin Kline, is sleeping with his ex-girlfriend. After consulting with his two best friends, Adam decides the best course of action is to work his way through his cell phone until he can find a woman to have sex with him. One tired montage of drunk dialing later, he awakens naked on the couch of Portman and her three roommate/colleagues.

Kutcher is far better than he’s been of late, but the “of late” was “The Killers,” so the bar was decidedly low. His Adam is pretty, affably dopey, nice—but that’s all there is to him. Similarly, Portman is simply a hyper-committed resident with just enough free time to reset her odometer, but no desire for emotional intimacy. There’s no arc to their characters, it’s just an hour and 48 minutes of everybody waiting for her to come to her senses.

Ivan Reitman’s son, Jason, had great success in 2007, working with a script from Diablo Cody for “Juno.” Three years later, the elder Reitman has teamed up with Cody’s fellow Fempire member Liz Merriwether, but the results don’t measure up. One gets the sense that Merriwether set out for “smart, crass and funny,” while Reitman had his eye on “sweet, crass and funny.” Reitman’s a decade or three removed from cultural relevance, and one wonders if he didn’t quite know how to deal with the material.

Reitman makes an odd cameo in his own film that isn’t funny and does nothing for the story, and he tries to remind you of his past greatness by having Adam’s bedroom wall adorned with a poster for Reitman’s 1979 opus, “Meatballs.” Is this guy not getting enough hugs at home?

Not all that funny, nor terribly romantic, “No Strings Attached” is just engaging enough to keep you invested, but not good enough to deliver the payoff. It’s too bad, too, because there’s plenty of fodder for comedy and romance within the construct. Luckily “Friends With Benefits,” starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, is only a few months away.

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