About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Review: Abduction


Taylor Lautner stars as a somewhat angry teen who is working on a Sociology assignment with his long-time neighbour (and crush) Lily Collins. Surfing a missing persons’ website, they come across a photo that looks alarmingly like Lautner! Is it a mistake? Are mom (Maria Bello) and dad (Jason Isaacs) really his mom and dad? Before he has much time to take any of this in, some scummy Russian baddies (led by the clearly non-Russian Michael Nyquist) have somehow gotten a hold of Lautner’s whereabouts and attack his home. He and Collins are forced to go on the run, and even the CIA (led by Alfred Molina) appear to be after him. What do they want from him? Sigourney Weaver plays Lautner’s only real ally, his shrink. Denzel Whitaker plays Lautner’s fake ID-dispensing friend, and a guy who sounds a whole lot like Dirty Steve turns up for a cameo near the end in a tiny but important role.

 

“2 Fast 2 Furious” might well be the worst film in the once promising career of director John Singleton (“Boyz N the Hood”, “Higher Learning”, “Rosewood”), however, this completely moronic and clichéd action-thriller from 2011 shows just how little the guy cares anymore. This hack-job literally could’ve come from anyone, and it really seems as if Singleton has become a director-for-hire. Or maybe just a sell-out. Perhaps he saw dollar signs in the chance to work with a ‘hot’ property like Lautner. But hack sell-out or not, Singleton should’ve known better than to allow this ancient screenplay by Shawn Christensen (whose only previous work has been on short films) to make it to the screen, and he certainly should’ve been able to tell early on that lead actors Taylor Lautner and Lily ‘I clearly take after my mother’ Collins are completely out of their (shallow) depth here. Meanwhile, it might seem to be a sure-fire hit to give Lautner his own vehicle, but the thing is, the “Twilight” series required little more of him than his physical presence and abs. Being a leading man, even in the action genre, requires a little more, and on evidence here, Lautner’s not got anything else to give (Personally I still think he has more charisma than Robert Pattinson, and unlike Kristen Stewart he knows how to smile, but let’s not go there). And because the action genre is primarily one enjoyed by men, they’re not going to care how hot Lautner’s abs are in order to compensate for anything else he lacks. Admittedly the film is more thriller than action film, but I still feel like the material would be of little interest to Lautner’s niche audience (Then again, the “Bourne” series’ box-office receipts would suggest not much of a gender divide, and this film is in a slightly similar vein- or at least wants to be so perhaps I’m making a mountain out of a molehill).

 

I feel a bit sorry for the kid, actually, because the film completely exposes him and not just in a way that his tweeny-bop female audience would like. He seems perplexed by the very notion of emoting on screen, or at the very least, he appears to be completely uncomfortable with the idea of letting himself be shown as vulnerable, emotionally. Fame is fleeting, Taylor, so either you need to take acting lessons or get over whatever shyness you have, because after the last “Twilight” film, this shit just isn’t going to fly anymore. You’ll become the next Jonathan Taylor Thomas, otherwise. There’s another big problem with Lautner’s casting, though. I understand that he is white and was born to white parents, but c’mon, if you didn’t already know that, you’d assume that he was either Hawaiian or Native American, right? He sure is awfully tan, isn’t he? And yet here he is, cast as someone meant to be the son of Maria Bello and Jason Isaacs. Wouldn’t the obvious lack of physical resemblance be your almost immediate tip-off that something is wrong here? No, he needed a missing person’s website for the penny to drop. Really? I’m sorry, but I’d have an easier time believing Draco Malfoy was the son of Isaacs and Bello, than Lautner. Even when we find out the truth about his lineage in the film, it still doesn’t convince because white or not, he looks absolutely nothing like anyone said to be his parent. Just because something is true, doesn’t mean it actually convinces on screen in a movie, and that proves to be the case here. I just never bought it, he is miscast.

 

OK, so I’ll stop bashing Lautner for now, because the film has a lot more problems outside of him. The script is absolutely appalling. The film’s basic premise involves a truly awful contrivance that for me it never recovered from. OK, so Lautner is doing a school assignment with Lily Collins and the topic they choose is I guess missing persons or some such. They access a missing person’s website, and after clicking through maybe three photos, up springs the one that apparently belongs to Lautner. Remember when I talked about a truly awful contrivance? Make that several. The whole premise of the film hangs on Lautner being given a specific class assignment (I can’t remember if the teacher chose the topic or the students, but if it’s the former, then they must be in on the conspiracy!) that leads him to a specific website, and then he specifically finds the page that is all about him, and this alerts the bad guys to his existence. I never even understood if the bad guys (or at least one set of bad guys) actually set up the site themselves or were simply able to hack into it, to be honest. But no matter whether they set it up themselves or not, it still begs the question: What would’ve happened if the kid never accessed the site? What if he was never given the assignment or chose something else? What if he gave up looking at it before he saw his photo? The answer, of course, is that there would be no movie. That isn’t always a problem, sometimes you just go with the flow, but here it was way too much to ask. It’s a fatal blow before the film really even kicks into gear. Then again, we’re talking about a film called “Abduction” which fails to feature anything even resembling an abduction. What the fuck? How the hell did no one think of that before it was released? So clearly, the film has its issues by the very title alone, let alone anything that comes after it.

 

Another element of contrivance, albeit a smaller one, involves the Sigourney Weaver character. Are we honestly expected to swallow that a CIA agent familiar with Lautner’s parents would be able to become Lautner’s shrink? How long has she been his shrink for? My guess is, she started being a shrink in her first scene in the film. Is she even really a psychiatrist? If not, I sure hope she didn’t prescribe Lautner any drugs. Might get into trouble for that. It just seems like an obvious plot contrivance to me, and not something truly organic to the film and its characters. The thing is, if the film were good in other respects, I might not even have picked up on such a thing until after the film was over.

 

The use of technology in this film just didn’t convince me at all. I was convinced by “Enemy of the State” despite being a bit far-fetched, but like the awful “Eagle Eye”, the use of modern technology here seemed so far over-the-top that I never bought it. Whether it’s possible to commandeer someone’s webcam or whatever, the fact is, Singleton never convinced me of it. I am, however, convinced that Mr. Christensen has seen a lot of movies. I know this because this film basically rips off “Hanna” and “Little Nikita”, whilst also containing elements of “Eagle Eye” and “Enemy of the State”, among others. The “Hanna” connection is especially strong just minus the fairy tale overtones and a male lead instead of female (Bad guys/spooks try to get at supposedly dangerous rogue agent father by targeting their kid, who has in some way been trained for combat). The problem there being that the father-daughter connection in “Hanna” was strong, thus it made the situation more plausible than it is in this film. Meanwhile, given that “Little Nikita” was a vehicle for the then young and hot teen icon River Phoenix, it’s pretty bloody cynical for Christensen and Singleton to try the same trick with Mr. Lautner here (Mind you, “Little Nikita” wasn’t any good, so perhaps it wasn’t so much cynical as stupid).

 

The relationship between Lautner and Collins also did not work for me. For a film that takes so long to get past the introductory stage, the introductory scenes between these two characters sure are clunky and ill-defined. At first he seems like a bitter ex-boyfriend, in addition to being a drunken douche. But then you find out that they are simply long-time neighbours and he has a crush on her. When you combine some of his douchy jealous behaviour with the fact that he’s seeing a shrink for anger issues, it not only makes their relationship hard to get a handle on, it makes Lautner seem a bit stalker-ish, too. And he’s our leading man, for chrissakes! The fact that Collins (the poor man’s Nina Dobrev- think about that, one!) looks completely uninterested in Lautner doesn’t help, either. He’s terrible, but she’s a total bore.

 

The action isn’t boring, I must say, in fact it’s well-choreographed and exciting. It’s just entirely absurd. Having Lautner trained in martial arts by Isaacs is one thing, I was almost able to go along with that despite him still basically being a kid yet acting like Jet Li. No, I’m more talking about the bad guys. You’d think secrecy would be a big concern for the bad guys, but in every action scene they act in the most violent and attention-seeking manner possible. Pulling out a gun in a crowded public place in broad daylight, for instance. There’s just no way that these guys would be so smart in some areas (tracking Lautner) yet so monumentally stupid and reckless in others.

 

Meanwhile, as much as Maria Bello and Sigourney Weaver are fine here, they’re also wasted in trivial roles. They fare better than Alfred Molina, however, whose very casting and physical presence seem too heavy-handed. Perhaps he’s trying to pick up Lautner’s slack (and Singleton certainly isn’t stupid for casting capable thespians to surround Lautner), but his over-the-top approach is as silly, ultimately, as the film itself. Also, what the hell has he done to his face? He joins a list of actors including Rupert Everett, Sela Ward, Sylvester Stallone, and Renee Zellweger whose physical features (notably the face) end up distracting you from anything else. The cinematography by Peter Menzies Jr. (“Posse”, “The 13th Warrior”, “When a Stranger Calls”) is no help, though. In addition to trying to connect things to the “Twilight” series by featuring as many overhead forest shots as possible, Menzies makes the film as unattractive as humanly possible. Hell, he even manages to make Lautner’s tan disappear for stretches at a time, suggesting several seasonal changes in the space of 100 minutes or so (or at least intermittent visits to the tanning salon during filming). Gauzy and headache-inducing at times, he’s also taken up J.J. Abrams’ fetish for lens flares, to a ridiculous and utterly pointless degree here.

 

I’m sorry, but this is just an alarmingly poor film from a guy who has clearly given up caring about his reputation. It may not be as mind-numbingly empty as “2 Fast 2 Furious”, but it’s still quite an embarrassment, and totally nondescript from a filmmaker who used to at least leave his own distinctive print on a film. Oh, and Twihards, you know where to send your hate mail to.

 

Rating: D-

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Review: Bloodbrothers

Detailing the trials and troubles of a working class Italian-American family, where brothers Paul Sorvino and Tony Lo Bianco try to persuade the latter’s sensitive son (a slightly too old Richard Gere) to join them in the construction business. Gere has more of an interest in working with kids, and gets a job offer by doctor Floyd Levine at the local hospital. Dad of course, sees social work as woman’s work, and belligerently disapproves, but he gets some support from his waitress girlfriend (played by Marilu Henner). Meanwhile, Lo Bianco’s frustrated wife Lelia Goldoni has become mentally unstable and her lashing out at their youngest son (Michael Hershwe) has led to his anorexia. Kenneth McMillan plays a disabled bartender, whilst various well-known character actors and faces play construction workers (Danny Aiello, Robert Costanzo, Eddie Jones, etc).


This 1978 Robert Mulligan (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) tale about a seriously dysfunctional Italian-American family is too broadly played, stereotyped, and overly familiar to have much resonance today. Scripted by an Oscar-nominated Walter Newman (“The Magnificent Seven”, “The Man With the Golden Arm”) from a novel by Richard Price (“The Colour of Money”, “Sea of Love”), it’s pretty much all over the shop, as are the performances. Tony Lo Bianco and especially an unrestrained Lelia Goldoni are the worst offenders. Lo Bianco, often typecast as Italian-American hoods, gives us a stereotype of Italian-American machismo, misogyny, occasional brutality, and just general hamminess. Occasionally there seems to be a real character in there, but largely it’s just too much of a ‘performance’ and it is more fitting of the stage. His character is also largely unpleasant and uninteresting, especially the longer the film goes on. But at least he has his moments, which cannot be said for the ghastly Goldoni, whose shrieking, mugging, wailing performance, coupled with a pathetic, basically psychotic character derail the film. She’s truly awful, both character and actress. A young Richard Gere is a bit better, but with his phony Bronx Italian-American accent and somewhat lothario ways, it felt to me like Gere thought he was playing the role infused by the spirit of John Travolta in “Saturday Night Fever”. I also found his character’s arc frankly an uninteresting cliché, and at worst, it seems to be sending a dubious message about masculinity at times.


The most enjoyable work comes from Paul Sorvino, Marilu Henner, and Kenneth McMillan, although it’s also amusing to see a pre-Freddy Robert Englund playing a wannabe stud in a small part. Sorvino (an underrated and long wasted talent) hams it up a bit, but one sees that as more a character trait than indicative of his actual performance quality. He’s certainly the most decent character in the entire film, aside from maybe Gere. He has a particularly great scene pouring his heart out to gruff, wheelchair-bound bartender McMillan.


At the end of the day, this is all very shouty and somewhat overbearing stuff for a story that isn’t all that memorable to begin with. There are moments, but not enough for me. Although a bit dated, the music score by Elmer Bernstein (“To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The Great Escape”, “The Magnificent Seven”) is the most appealing thing in this film.

 
Rating: C+

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Review: Sleeping Beauty

Emily Browning plays a uni student behind on her rent who works three part-time jobs (in an office, a cafe, and as a lab rat). She applies for another job, this one a peculiar pseudo-bordello run by Rachael Blake where (mostly elderly) men pay to lie down with naked women, who are drugged. The girls are referred to as ‘sleeping beauties’. No penetration of any kind is allowed, however. At first, Browning is used as a waitress at parties for elderly men (and one woman) whom the girls serve wine to in lingerie that sees them topless. We see Browning with three clients over the course of the film, each with their own strange peccadilloes, ranging from rather tender (Peter Carroll) to careless (Hugh Keays-Byrne) to genuinely hostile (Chris Haywood). Then one day, Browning gets curious as to what goes on while she’s sedated...

 
Oh goodie, Australia is back to making pretentious, arty-farty crap again. Glorious. This stupefyingly silly 2011 film from writer-director Julia Leigh is highly regarded by the majority of critics at home, as filmmakers keep sucking up to them by offering up snooty, uber-pretentious crap that will fail to sell overseas. Hell, this one has divided audiences in my neck of the woods, don’t worry about overseas!

 
The whole idea of this film is beyond fatuous, and what truly irritates me is that to look at the plot synopsis is to ask the question: How is this not a Jess Franco sleaze-fest from Spain? I mean, add some lesbian sex scenes, an overuse of the zoom lens, and arm Chris Haywood’s dirty old perve character with some S&M gear and you’d have a Franco exploitation film. But noooo. This is Australian, it must be art! No, it’s trash masquerading as art. I love trash, I can appreciate art, but this? This is a pointless, sterile piece of shit (Hmmm, maybe that’s an achievement, then...). Besides, I think Australian filmmakers (and many critics) seem to think cinema is solely to be admired from afar and greeted with a polite ‘golf clap’. Perhaps some films are like that, but Australia makes too many of them (few of them worth seeing). Whatever happened to enjoyment and audience engagement? You won’t find that here, that’s for sure. Although petite, Emily Browning looks fantastic naked, but other than that, I got nothing out of this at all. It could’ve been sleazy fun for the kind of people who are into that kind of thing, but instead we get shrivelled up old men’s penises (which I’m sure have a profound, esoteric meaning), a dorky dinner scene reminiscent of the pretentious orgy from “Eyes Wide Shut” (and yes, that is Benita Collings from “Play School” as the lone elderly female at the table. I guess Noni Hazlehurst was busy at the time), a boring old fart (Peter Carroll) who stops to give a pointless and endless soliloquy about God knows what (the kind of theatrical/poetry nonsense that Australian cinema is sadly full of- cinema is not theatre!), and other arty farty nonsense that has no resemblance to any reality that you or I are a part of.

 
I mean, what kind of person works in an office, does a pseudo sex worker gig, and undergoes some kind of weird scientific experiments? (The other jobs add irrelevant asides to the film, nothing else) I know times are tough and people need to take more than one job sometimes, but couldn’t there be at least a little resemblance to reality? Please let me know if scenarios like this do happen in reality, but honestly, I couldn’t believe for a second that anyone would pay money to lie next to a girl without any penetration being involved at all (Yes, they are seemingly impotent old men, but I reckon that was more Leigh’s way of trying to get around not having any penetration involved more than a real necessity for the characters). And she’s drugged and completely unresponsive? Outside of sickos, I can’t see anyone deriving pleasure from this, and there seemed to be only one sicko in the film, the rest were just sad old men. I get the anonymity and not wanting to be judged, but they might as well have just gotten a blow-up sex doll for crying out loud. I just didn’t get it, and although I’ve heard the writer-director did her research, I can’t imagine it was anything outside of studying fairytales. The idea of drugging the girls is entirely ridiculous, no matter the literary reference. I just don’t see that happening in real life (Outside of the ‘date rape’ drug scenario, of course). Hell, why would anyone want to sit down to dinner, with several other grown adults (and by grown I mean elderly) whilst being served by topless women? I love naked women, I like food, but the mixture of the two here was just batty due to the cold and austere nature of it. I understand it was to get to the point of Browning being chosen as a ‘sleeping beauty’, but the actual dinner itself seems bizarre and completely pointless beyond furthering the plot.

 
Similarly, I don’t know why on Earth anyone would accept such a job, even if they were struggling. I mean, what kind of jobs would she have turned down before deciding on this one? That’s what I’d like to know. Just because she needs money, it doesn’t explain why she takes this job. I mean, she still keeps her other gigs, so it can’t even be said to be high-paying. Why bother taking on such an extreme job, then? Even without penetration, surely you’d still want to be earning a pretty penny for such degradation. Sadly, we don’t get any insight into the character’s inner workings from actress Emily Browning, who is cute but a blank slate (presumably on purpose) and not terribly likeable or identifiable. She’s completely ambivalent on screen. The whole film is similarly inaccessible and uninteresting, neither titillating, enlightening, emotionally charged, or entertaining in any way. It offers nothing, keeping one at a complete distance in every way imaginable. Like its protagonist, the film is entirely indifferent. Leaving a bit of homework for audiences is one thing, but there doesn’t seem to be anything at all here to take in, nothing worth taking in at the very least. You can’t leave all the work to the audience, otherwise why bother making the film at all? The film ends on a frustratingly inconclusive note, presumably just because it can. At least it’s in keeping with the rest, I suppose. The whole film plays like it’s in search of a purpose or profundity it never finds.

 
Rachael Blake gives an irritatingly arch, snooty and one-note performance, and her scenes are woefully repetitive. The whole film becomes repetitive after a while, but how many damn times did we have to listen to Blake tell the horny old buggers that penetration wasn’t allowed? Methinks Ms. Leigh (whose first film this is) likes the word ‘penetration’ and was going to have her actors use it as often as possible (Similarly, Browning is told to use lipstick that matches the colour of her ‘labia’...just so the word ‘labia’ can be mentioned). About the only clever thing about the film is its title, a cute play on words and the classic tale “Sleeping Beauty”, I guess. Other than that, I fail to see any point or message to this film at all. At least “Monkey’s Mask”, for all its pretentiously arty characters and wanky lesbian/poetry milieu had a point: the solving of a murder mystery.

 
It’s a beautiful-looking film (in an anti-septic Kubrick kinda way), well-lit by cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson (the similarly awful and arty “Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey”, which was even worse), but this is the kind of self-important shit that makes me love silly exploitation films all the more. At least they’re honest about what they are and don’t try to give us anything else, for the most part. This film takes an obvious softcore plotline, and then shoves it all up its own anus, there to be enjoyed only by those with their noses in the air and who like to hear the sound of their own voices as they pontificate on things like empowerment or disempowerment, passivity, the ‘female gaze’ and whatever else I had to endure in cinema studies class at uni. Credit where it’s due, though, the film is equally misogynistic towards men and women. Not sure how one manages to achieve that, but this film certainly does. I guess that’s some kind of achievement. 
 
Rating: D+

Monday, September 17, 2012

Review: Mean Streets


Harvey Keitel plays Charlie, a small-time hood (and guilty Catholic) whose irresponsible, volatile pal Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro, giving a Master Class of screen acting) gets him into all sorts of trouble, whilst he runs errands for his crime boss uncle Cesare Danova, who wants him to dump reckless Johnny Boy (who has no concept of personal responsibility whatsoever). But Charlie wants to do right, by his faith, by his uncle, and by his friends. Yeah...probably not going to successfully juggle all three there, Charlie. David Proval is the comparatively easy-going neighbourhood bartender Charlie is buddies with. Richard Romanus believably plays a mid-level (at best!) loan shark whom Johnny Boy is in debt to (admittedly, there are few people in town he’s not in debt to), and who is fast losing patience. Amy Robinson is Johnny Boy’s epileptic cousin whom Charlie becomes involved with, much to Danova’s disapproval (though Danova hates Johnny Boy even more).

 

Authentic, low-budget 1973 Martin Scorsese (“Goodfellas”, “Raging Bull”, “Taxi Driver”, “The Aviator”) slice of two-bit hoodlum life in NYC’s Little Italy gets a major boost from De Niro’s electrifying, scene-stealing performance (one of his best-ever). Keitel is solid, but his character isn’t terribly interesting. Excellent supporting work by a couple of genre veterans Romanus and Proval, too.

 

Scorsese’s incessant overuse of popular music (apparently much lifted from his own record collection like The Rolling Stones and the Ronnettes) is really the only flaw (his one stylistic flourish that proves a little too much) in an otherwise pretty believably depicted, gritty, sometimes funny, sometimes visually spectacular film that helped make the director a much-lauded filmmaker (whose Roger Corman-stable training stands him well here with the low-budget) and was the first in a quite fruitful partnership between Scorsese and De Niro (“Taxi Driver”, “Raging Bull”, “New York, New York”, “The King of Comedy”, “Goodfellas”, “Cape Fear”, “Casino”). Fun cameos by Robert and David Carradine (as a baby-faced killer and drunk, respectively), and the director himself at the film’s violent (and memorable) conclusion.

 

New York gangster movie fans will want to bump the rating up a bit here, most consider it a 5-star affair (and it was probably very new and fresh in its day), I just found it more interesting on the periphery than with Keitel’s rather bland character (Being an atheist meant that the Catholic guilt stuff, so obviously personal and important to Scorsese, didn’t have much resonance with me), and the world depicted isn’t exactly a fascinating one to me, personally. But watching De Niro’s ‘car crash waiting to happen’ act was pretty intense stuff, and whatever its flaws may be, it proves very influential even to this day. A must-see, at the very least.

 

Rating: B

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Review: Friends With Benefits


Justin Timberlake plays a graphic designer who is sought out by head-hunter Mila Kunis to take a job at GQ magazine in New York. She also shows him the local sights to entice him, and before long, the two have become fast friends. Oh, and he takes the job. One night watching a shitty romcom they come to the realisation that their relationships have been unfulfilling, and before you know it, both are agreeing to an arrangement of casual sex with no other complications. It works for him because he’s not looking for commitment whilst he’s ascending in his career, and it works for her because she’s sick of being messed around by douchy guys. No romance, no emotional support, just gettin’ jiggy wit’ each other. Y’know, kinda like what Jerry and Elaine tried on “Seinfeld”. Needless to say, they’re clearly attracted to one another, but unfortunately, they’re hell-bent on ruining any potential happiness they might have together and deny there’s anything more than ‘friends with benefits’ going on. Woody Harrelson is Timberlake’s openly gay boss, for whom the phrase ‘TMI’ was probably created (It’s an archaic role, but Harrelson is having fun with it). Richard Jenkins is Timberlake’s Alzheimer’s afflicted dad, Jenna Elfman (who has finally learned to stop with all the annoying facial twitching and goofy looks) is his worried sister, and Patricia Clarkson is Kunis’ aging hippie mother who can never remember which one of her one-night stands was Kunis’ father.

 

Of the three films released between 2010-2011 essentially taking the notion of casual sex and applying it to a romance movie formula, 2010’s “Love and Other Drugs” stands out as the only truly successful film of the trio. It’s also the one that is least like the other two, though the drug company subplot was actually the weakest part of the film, original or not. 2011’s “No Strings Attached”, meanwhile, was largely a failure, screwing up everything that the earlier film got right. Now comes this 2011 film from director/co-writer Will Gluck (the overrated “Easy A”), which is alarmingly similar to “No Strings Attached” in particular (Comparisons between the three, but especially these two, are unavoidable). Except that this time, it comes extremely close to working. At any rate, it’s certainly better than “No Strings Attached”, if not on the level of “Love and Other Drugs”. It’s relatively smart, often funny, and most importantly of all, the leads had enough chemistry (even if it was just a real-life friendship kinda chemistry) and the characters are likeable enough, that the transition from ‘fuck buddies’ (which is what “No Strings Attached” was originally going to be called, apparently) to romantic love interests was relatively palatable. If one were to compare it to “No Strings Attached”, Justin Timberlake is much more likeable and palatable as a romantic lead than Ashton Kutcher, and Mila Kunis is a lot less hardened, self-absorbed, and aloof than Natalie Portman. Hell, she’s got this combination of dead sexy and sweet adorability that is almost put to as good use as in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”.

 

I really appreciated that the leads here were much more aware of the situation they were getting themselves into, but also, because the audience could sense genuine chemistry between them, it made the transition from ‘fuck buddies’ to romantic partners far more seamless. Part of that is because Gluck and his co-writers make sure to build a friendship between Kunis and Timberlake whilst also not neglecting to show that there is an obvious attraction between them fairly early on. There was a coldness and selfishness to the relationship between Kutcher and Portman, I never got much of a sense of their friendship, nor any sense of a genuine romantic attraction on Portman’s side (Kutcher was clearly attracted to her, though, and was therefore a complete tool). It just seemed like a cold, sexual relationship. Here the two are true ‘friends with benefits’ with the emphasis on friends from very early on, and it’s obvious that their further attraction is mutual.

 

The only thing it really lacked for me was freshness, and it does prevent the film from being anything more than watchable. The idea of ‘fuck buddies’ is really the only fresh element to the film, let’s face it. Otherwise it’s just a standard romantic comedy, and when you add to that the alarming similarities to “No Strings Attached”, the film didn’t end up being all that original after all. It improves upon the earlier film, but still isn’t all that different from it. Given that there’s a scene where Kunis and Timberlake criticise a faux romantic comedy (starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones) for all its clichés, you’d think Gluck and co-writers Keith Merryman and David A. Newman would’ve been self-aware enough to spot the clichés in their own story. Then again, Gluck is the same guy who wasn’t self-aware enough to realise his lead character in “Easy A” unnecessarily brought many of her problems onto herself.

 

I also have to criticise the characters of the parents in this film. Patricia Clarkson in particular offers up a performance that is somewhere in between Kevin Kline’s douchy dad in “No Strings Attached” (the best thing in the film) and Clarkson’s own slutty mum character in Gluck’s previous “Easy A”. It’s damn-near the same bloody performance, actually. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now. It’s not funny, it’s creepy and TMI. Richard Jenkins offers up a terrific performance as Timberlake’s Alzheimer’s afflicted dad, but the character as written never seems to know whether it is to be taken seriously or not, and ends up a bit uncomfortable as a result. The characters of the ex-partners played by Andy Samberg (and overplayed by) Emma Stone (and creepy her gremlin face) are also overdone in my view, though thankfully they disappear very early on. Shaun White’s cameo as an aggressive, douchebag version of himself is a bit better, though American filmmakers ought to take into consideration international audiences who may not have any clue who the fuck Shaun White is (I’ve heard of him, but wasn’t sure what sport he was famous for. I know it’s something of an extreme sport or some such. Or maybe skateboarding?).

 

I also think the film had a bit too much juvenile humour for a supposedly romantic movie. I like juvenile humour, but not when I’m in the mood for romance, thanks.

 

Overall, this is a well-cast, mostly well-acted romcom that despite my concerns about using casual sex in a romcom formula, works a lot better than it could have. It’s nothing new, but it comes pretty close to pulling off the tricky balance of casual sex and romantic comedy.

 

Rating: C+