January 21, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Tom Long

Review: Plethora of co-stars can't tie up plot's loose ends in 'No Strings'

Tom Long reviews 'No Strings Attached'
Tom Long reviews 'No Strings Attached': Directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Kline.

'No Strings Attached" is all about the asides — the raunchy jokes, the funny ancillary characters, the awkward situations and unlikely encounters.

It has to be about the asides, because the film's basic premise is so outrageously predictable. This is a movie about a man and a woman who decide to be sex friends, just sharing carnal pleasures and avoiding any romantic entanglements at all costs.

Guess what happens?

The film banks heavily on the charms of its lead characters, aspiring screenwriter Adam, played by Ashton Kutcher, and fledgling doctor Emma, played by Natalie Portman. And they are indeed charming, in a modern, texting, Facebook-y, post-college kind of way.

But no matter how sweet and good-looking and likeable they may be, the bottom line remains: You know what's going to happen from the very beginning.

So to keep things interesting, director Ivan Reitman ("Ghostbusters") has literally stuffed the film with extremely talented people in supporting or downright minor roles.

First off, there's indie golden girl No. 1 Greta Gerwig ("Greenberg") playing Emma's best friend. Then there's indie golden girl No. 2 Olivia Thirlby ("Juno") playing her sister. Veteran rapscallion Kevin Kline appears as Adam's loopy father; and on-fame's-edge slapstick beauty Lake Bell ("It's Complicated") is Adam's sort-of boss.

Everybody gets to do their bits, down to a cameo from "Saturday Night Live" kook Abby Elliott in which she does impersonations of a cartoon fish and, even better, Drew Barrymore.

It's all fairly entertaining. And it's clearly intended to distract the audience from both the film's obvious storyline and rocky logic.

Adam and Emma first meet at a summer camp when they're 14. Then they run into each other in Ann Arbor years later at a drunken frat party (Adam attends U-M, though the scenes weren't shot there; Emma is going to a school for "smart people," MIT).

Eventually they both end up in L.A. (doesn't everyone?). He's a production assistant on a "Glee"-like TV show; she's doing her residency at a hospital in Westwood.

They make their deal as unattached sex partners, and it almost immediately begins to fall apart.

And that's pretty much the whole movie. See why they called in Greta Gerwig, et al?

But even the cute distractions can't get around the film's most crucial turning point, which is a mess. Adam gets Emma to agree to a date; they both acknowledge their feelings for one another, but Emma can't quite commit.

Why not?

There's some gobbledygook about her being odd, and then some more nonsense about her father dying, but none of it really adds up. Reitman just steamrolls past the problem by adding more cute asides.

The romance in romantic comedies seems to be making less and less sense these days, and audiences are probably growing used to the sorts of lite-laugh scripts (this one's from Elizabeth Meriwether) that keep things rolling along, no matter how inanely.

It's all very sitcommy, with appealing characters that are poorly developed. It goes down easy, but it has little nutritious — or romantic — value. There is indeed very little attached to "No Strings Attached."

'No Strings Attached'

GRADE: C+Rated R: For sexual content, language and some drug materialRunning time: 108 minutes

A casual hookup between Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman gets predictably complicated. / Paramount Pictures
Greta Gerwig and Jake Johnson are two of the many co-stars with smaller ...
Olivia Thirlby, left, of “Juno” fame drops in as Natalie Portman’s sister. (Paramount Pictures)
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