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07/22/2011

Booty calls with entanglement pitfalls

Kudos to "Friends With Benefits" director Will Gluck for daring to sprinkle some real-life drama into a silly little romantic-comedy that flashes some skin and lesser parts romance and comedy.

Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, two rising stars of the Yeah, Us Generation, do all they can with a premise doomed from the beginning:  Sex without emotion or entanglements.

Let's face it, folks.  The booty call, no commitment relationship already had its chance on the big screen.
Earlier this year Oscar winner Natalie Portman ("Black Swan") and Ashton Kutcher (Charlie Sheen's soon-to-be replacement on TV's "Two and a Half Men") gave it a goofy go in "No Strings Attached."

The idea failed, although the movie had some merit as a romantic-comedy.

Even good actors like Timberlake ("The Social Network") and Kunis ("Black Swan") can't make "Friends with Benefits" hook an audience as entertainment, however.  The problem is that director Gluck's first effort since last year's semi-entertaining "Easy A" attempts to stuff some serious life lessons, including but not limited to the sex without commitment thingy, into a format that's traditional romantic-comedy.

Dylan (Timberlake) plays a hotshot Web site graphic designer in L.A. who's recruited by Jamie (Kunis), a get-it-done corporate headhunter.  She lures him to New York for an interview at GQ magazine.

Both are on the rebound from recent breakups, which are inter cut nicely by Gluck to open the film.

Like Portman and Kutcher in "No Strings Attached," Dylan and Jamie take the plunge into a grand experiment doomed to failure:  vigorous sex with none of the cuddling, or "Call me" or whining about a sex partner who might encounter someone else away from the not-so-sacred pact.

Jamie, claiming to be a "good girl," makes Dylan swear on a Bible that neither partner will violate the special bond.  The Bible, however, is a Bible app on an ipad.

Welcome to The Good Book in the New Digital Age, movie-goers.

Jamie's Mom (Patricia Clarkson) wanders off in the direction of every man she sniffs.  Dylan, on the other hand, is sort of hiding the fact that his dad (superbly played by Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins of "The Visitor") has some serious, heartbreaking health issues.

I like the fact that "Friends With Benefits" attempts to fry some real life stumbling blocks in the same pan as the over-easy romance and peek-a-boo frolics under the sheets.  For those who seek out R-rated movies for such things, there's more raunchy sex talk than exposed skin, except for a showcase of Timberlake's bare Southern extremities.

"Friends With Benefits" is a tough call for a critic.  If modern, graphic pillow talk is all you require in a romantic-comedy, it's a semi-rewarding hour and a half or so in a movie house.

Otherwise, some very good veteran actors (Jenkins, Clarkson) and young rising stars (Timberlake, Kunis) might just appear to be hanging around on the screen for a very long time.

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