No Strings Attached Movie Review. Thomas Dodson reviews Ivan Reitman's comedy starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman.
(1 out of 5 stars) - "No Thought Attached Is More Like It."
No Strings Attached
In this formulaic rom com, Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) are “life-long friends” per the official synopsis – though they’re really just acquaintances who run into each other at random points - who make a pact to become strict sex partners and nothing more. Guess how that works out for them.
No Strings Attached is plain un-funny – the bulk of its mountain of coitally themed one-liners fall flat (Or should I say they’re limp.). It didn’t help that the screening I attended was held in a huge theater, yet less than half full; a substantial number of seats were marked reserved, yet were never claimed. The nonstop, very loud and very frank sex banter gets boring quickly, the dialogue stake ad unimaginative. Characters drop the f-bomb about once every thirty seconds, often a jarringly: “Did you fuck her?” And how about that hysterical line in the opening scene? You know, the one where the sad-eyed teenaged boy blurts out to the sweet-faced teenaged girl who’s being nice to him, “Can I finger you?!” Hilarious! Everyone in the movie seems to talk this way, for everyone to hear in public places. It’s way too easy imagining some crusty fat cat studio exec conjuring this schtick and patting themselves on the back for thinking they’d impress the twenty-something set by glibly saying “fuck” again and again. But there’s next to nothing humorous about this paint-by-the-numbers script nor is there anything in it that’s even vaguely sexy.
Portman phones her performance in. It appears she gave not an iota of thought to Emma – I’m surprised she even bothered doing publicity rounds for the movie. The otherwise talented starlet must have been offered buckets of cash, otherwise why bother with this tripe around the pinnacle of her career, with BLACK SWAN? Ashton Kutcher on the other hand has proven himself pretty much incapable of acting range. (He did however nail mimbo Michael Kelso from “That 70s Show.”) How many failed romantic comedies (KILLERS, WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS, JUST MARRIED, this) must he assist in sinking before the biz finally throws in the towel on this guy? In contrast, he’s proven himself a successful entrepreneur in TV and new media circles, having produced multiple reality shows, generated buzz via Twitter, and co-founded Katalyst, a studio that’s received high marks from Ad Age and Fast Company. He needs to put his flat lining acting career to rest and engage his real talents full time.
Kevin Kline (playing Adam’s swinging dad) just made me sad – is this the best the Academy and Tony Award winning actor can do now? Please don’t follow Richard Dreyfuss’s path! Kline’s role is at least small enough, he may have knocked his few scenes out in a handful of days. His frank sex talk caused audible eww’s in the theatre. Although I suppose verbalized disgust is better than the awkward silences that followed all those other ill-timed knee-slappers.
Since Portman and Kutcher so consistently missed their marks I wished talented up-and-comers Greta Gerwig and Lake Bell could have somehow taken their place instead of being saddled with their supporting roles. A lesbian rom com, anyone? Emma’s infinitely more intriguing friend/roommate Patrice (Gerwig), like so many attractive women in romantic comedies, ends up with a schlubby, obnoxious man, yet seems all the happier for it. Here’s an experiment: picture a man as attractive as Gerwig dating a schlubby, obnoxious female. Is that a pairing you often see on the big screen? (Nyet.) Bell is funniest of all as a fidgety producer in love with Adam, and her few scenes generate laughter. Olivia Thirlby, an almost unrecognizable Cary Elwes and Ludacris also make appearances.
Oh, and having mentioned lesbians, I love the way they’re portrayed here. At one point we see two attractive young women, one sitting on either side of Adam, when suddenly, randomly, they declare their unbridled love for the other and passionately make out in front of everyone. Then they go to Adam’s house –not clear why - to take each other’s clothes off on his couch. Because that’s what lesbians do, I guess – exist purely for men’s titillation, to strip down and paw each other as long as others are there to witness it. Double standard test: Replace them with two male characters spontaneously getting it on in a mainstream film, and instead of being showcased for its sex value, it’ll most likely be played for laughs, the BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN’s of the world notwithstanding. Just sayin’.
The ending, like the rest of the film, is obvious – unless you’ve never before seen a movie it gives nothing away to tell you they profess their love for one another. (They don’t suffer horrible disfigurements in a fiery explosion like I was gunning for.) The poster of their lithe, half-naked bodies is meant to titillate. (Right on the heels of LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS’ similarly sexy poster… Hmm.) We see Adam’s bare ass a couple of times in the film (no complaint there), but interestingly enough, not Portman’s boobs – and in a movie that prides itself for its randiness! The one sex scene between Adam and Emma is short and kinda boring; it’s not clear why Emma, the young, beautiful doctor putting in long hours (though always looking remarkably perky, hair and makeup perfect) goes for Adam, who at one point calls every girl he knows to ask if she’ll have sex with him. What a catch! After the preliminary hook-up, we’re presented with constant hints and flashes of sex going on, but nothing particularly, well, sexy. A couple of times the two get it on in the hospital where she works; in one scene she lies him down on a gurney and jams a medical instrument up his ass. I of course wanted them to be discovered and her justly fired. No such luck!
I looked up screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether on IMDB - this is her first feature, so we can chalk up this two-hour dung fest to lack of experience and hope she learns from it. (Though there is one funny scene involving a “period mix” Adam makes for Emma including songs like “Red, Red Wine” and “I’ve Got You On a String.”) Ivan Reitman on the other hand has no such excuse for helping drive this pitiful star vehicle off a cliff. This is the talent behind GHOSTBUSTERS and STRIPES? Then again, he also directed the (much more recent) bombs MY SUPER EX-GIRLFRIEND, EVOLUTION and SIX DAYS SEVEN NIGHTS. NO STRINGS ATTACHED qualifies as strike four - meaning he shouldn’t have been back up to bat in the first place. Gets you real excited for next year’s GHOSTBUSTERS III, huh?