No Strings Attached Directed by: Ivan Reitman Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Natalie Portman, Kevin Kline, Ludacris, Greta Gerwig Running Time: 1 hr 50 mins Rating: R Release Date: January 21, 2011
PLOT: A young man (Kutcher) and woman (Portman) struggle to keep their relationship strictly sexual with no romantic complications. Supposedly, hilarity ensues.
WHO'S IT FOR? I wanna say romantic comedy fans, but this isn't even for all rom-com lovers. This wreaks of the male-oriented romantic comedy, which features a few shots of T & A to satiate the appetites of the over-sexed and the women that they wish existed.
EXPECTATIONS: Ashton Kutcher's involved? Yeah, my expectations were not high. Natalie Portman is almost insufferably cute so I thought I'd be able to tough it out for her. Nick Allen suggested the Academy may strip Portman of her Oscar for Black Swan after this one, and I'm not sure he's too far off.
ACTORS: Ashton Kutcher as Adam: Ashton Kutcher doesn't have to do much to pass in Hollywood. I mean, he's attractive, he's married to Demi Moore, and he's always got those camera commercials to fall back on if times get tough. Basically, there's no reason any of us should be forced to suffer through yet another Ashton Kutcher film... but here we are. He's his usual smarmy self, but with a poorly written or poorly acted (it's hard to tell the difference) flare thrown in where he's not the playboy he is in most other movies. We're supposed to believe that Adam believes in the possibility of love and that he genuinely cares about Emma, but every moment of emotional sincerity he has is offset by, not even kidding, scatological humor. It's hard to invest in most of this performance when Reitman doesn't have the dignity to give him passable material or much of a heart at all. Still, the nice shot of his butt bumps him up a point or two. Score: 4
Natalie Portman as Emma: Portman is the pixie beauty that stole my heart in such laughably bad movies as Anywhere but Here or Where the Heart Is. Still, after watching this movie, I couldn't help but wonder, where is the heart? What makes this character tick? There are a few cheap shots of pop psychology to "flesh out the character" but no real attempt to understand why she's so guarded or so afraid to be loved. Even worse, Natalie Portman's character has the potential to be a revolutionary kind of female character who owns her sexuality, but in the mess of a third act, it becomes clear that she's the pipe dream of an adolescent, over-sexed heterosexual male audience. There's no real redemption for the character and as much as it pains to say this, Portman seems to phone it in with this one. Where's the lively, funny girl who rapped on SNL years ago? Because she's nowhere to be found in this movie. Score: 4
Rest of the Cast as Adam's Posse: Adam's friends, played by Ludacris and Jake Johnson, are the kind of guys you want to have in your corner after a bad breakup. They're crass at times, but ultimately, they seem to know Adam better than he knows himself. Coincidentally, by the end of the movie, I felt like I knew these characters better than I knew either leads. Sure, there's a pretty solid portion where Wallace and Eli are nowhere to be found, but whenever they do pop their heads into a scene, it usually guaranteed a few chuckles. As far as supporting characters in the rom-com, movies have done a lot worse, but there's not a whole lot to these characters except a couple of solid one-liners. Score: 6
Rest of the Cast as Emma's Crew: Greta Gerwig, Mindy Kaling and some non-descript gay guy play Emma's doctor friend. First things first, I don't say "non-descript gay guy" as some sort of insult to the gay population, but he serves no real reason except to be effeminate, even going so far as to claim he's on the same menstrual cycle as Emma and her friends in one scene. I knew I was supposed to laugh, but it was just kinda creepy. Ignoring him (who was literally so forgettable, I can't even find him on IMDb) Emma's friends are a fun bunch. It's weird to see Greta Gerwig, Independent Spirit Award nominee, in a movie like this, but she nails her lines as best as she can. The few instances where I did laugh in the film, such as the aforementioned "period party" scene, I owe to Gerwig or Kaling. Gerwig's line "It looks like a crime scene in my pants" is totally juvenile but when delivered by Gerwig, I couldn't help but hate myself as I laughed. Kaling sticks to dead-panning, which works for her. Her total lack of enthusiasm could easily be legitimate apathy when handed a dull script like this, but she weaves it into comedic gold. Score: 7
TALKING: You can accept the usual string of nonsense that people should have learned to expect from romantic comedies by now. No Strings Attached never really has the heart to deal with new territory, so it's only fitting that it would stick to trite platitudes and Hallmark card sentiments. Still, what brought this movie down to a 4 was its insistence on not even pretending to take itself seriously. I understand that it's a comedy and comedies aren't serious by nature, but this movie tries to wade into semi-serious territory and undercuts itself with poop jokes, sort of stripping away any chance at establishing a real heart to this piece. In the end, it feels like a favor because watching Kutcher struggle through a semi-dramatic scene was painful enough, but still, there's no getting around the sloppy writing. Score: 4
SIGHTS: In terms of sights, there's really not a whole lot to talk about. Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher are both easy on the eyes, so the sights can't be too bad, but nothing was particularly intoxicating. There are a couple of solid moments that managed to elicit some warm and fuzzies, like Adam and Emma's "first real date," but they're too few and far between to do any real good. Still, I feel like what people are really reading this to find out is what we're talkin' about when it comes to the "sights" of the two leads. Kutcher's got a butt shot and you get a brief glimpse of Portman as she pulls her underwear up. I mean, let's be real here, that was most people's motivation for reading this far, right? To see if the two leads get naked? Nothing enough to make it worth the price of admission. Score: 5
SOUNDS: The music in the movie is actually pretty solid. I may be sort of biased considering how happy I got when I heard Bishop Allen's "Click, Click, Click, Click" in the movie only minutes after listening to it on the train down to the movie theater, but there were some other good uses of music. In terms of musical score, there's a lot left to be desired. No Strings Attached seems to find it easier to apply some heavy handed musical cues to tell us "C'mon guys, feel bad for Adam, he's sad." Sure, it's annoying, but when I consider the alternative of Ashton Kutcher trying to emote or making puppy dog eyes one more time, it's not so bad. Still, the score's tendency to overwhelm the acting can't be a good sign. Score: 5
BEST SCENE: The flashbacks that start off the movie are a charming way of giving our characters a little history without overwhelming us with dialogue. It's the classic "show, don't tell" but when your best scene is your first one, that's rarely a good sign.
ENDING: It's pretty much your standard, defying any logic and common sense, fairy tale ending that you get from romantic comedies. Then again, I'm not sure how much of a spoiler that is... I'm pretty sure it's what most people are expecting going into this.
QUESTIONS: Why does Ivan Reitman sully his good name with this garbage? No, seriously, if somebody can get in touch with him and get back to me, I'd really appreciate it because I just can't make sense of this. What's wrong with Emma? I know they sort of try to explain it in the third act, but is it just daddy issues or what?
REWATCHABILITY: There just aren't enough ways to say no in the English language for this one.
No Strings Attached is perhaps one of the most offensive types of comedy. Truth be told, I was kinda surprised by this. Like I said, I was going into it thinking, "How awesome is this? We finally get a female character who enjoys sex and doesn't get punished for it!" Well, I was only half right. It's true, Emma is in control of her sexuality for most of the movie and it's really awesome, especially considering the double standard for men and women when it comes to sex. But Emma is seen as wrong or deficient for wanting to enjoy sex.
This really sets up most of the gender politics of the film, with men being the good guys who show women the error of their ways. Does it sound incredibly offensive? Because it really is. Don't even get me started on the portrayal of minorities in the movie. But without getting too political, this isn't the only offense I'm talking about here.
What happened to the once great Ivan Reitman? Why is Natalie Portman, a safe bet for the Oscar this year, slumming it in this piece of trash? Even secondary characters in this movie, like Kevin Kline or Greta Gerwig, have the potential to do something better. Yet, all we're left with is a half-baked romance between two attractive people. Seriously, if the two leads weren't so good looking, which provides a nice distraction here and there, this movie wouldn't even be worth the time it takes to write a review.
In the end, No Strings Attached is exactly the type of movie that makes me worry about what 2011 has to offer. I know January is the studio's dumping ground, but if garbage like this even gets a theatrical release, that's a definite sign of trouble. Despite a few chuckles every so often, usually provided by the supporting cast, No Strings Attached is a tired exercise in making a "progressive" romantic comedy that straddles he fence between offensive and just plain unbearable.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10