It’s a movie made by a guy whose greatest contribution to film in the last two decades is getting his son a job in the industry. It stars an actor whose greatest claim to fame is his wife, and an actress with Oscar aspirations and the potential for an embarrassment of Norbit (2007)-sized proportions. Considering all this, Ivan Reitman’s No Strings Attached (a movie once preposterously titled F**k Buddies) isn’t all that horrendous.
Not being a horrific train wreck of a movie unfortunately doesn’t keep the film from floundering in tedium. It’s a romantic comedy after all, and your standard fare at that. For all its attempts at subverting the genre with an R-rating and occasional fits of vague raunchiness—it is a film all about cheap, meaningless sex, lest one forget—No Strings Attached is still a paint-by-numbers affair. The film’s egregiously corny attempts at romantic catchphrases would make the guy who wrote “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” groan.
And even after all that, I can’t call No Strings Attached an actively bad movie. A lot of this has to do with the surprising chemistry between Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, who play two friends who decide to enter into a relationship centered solely around sex with no emotional attachment. My first instinct would be to say that Portman brings Kutcher up to her level, but he certainly holds his own when she’s not around. He’s the most appealing—if not spectacular—he’s ever been, and it certainly helps that he’s given a character that’s affable but not idiotic.
But it’s not just the two leads. The humor never devolves into gross out-gags (a miracle for an R-rated comedy) or slapstick. Not all of it works, of course, especially since the film too often relies on a mix of gay jokes and low-grade raunch, but there are a handful of laughs to be had. Even Reitman handles everything in a workman-like—if unspectacular—fashion, and shows he’s not too bad when he’s not shackled to the kinds of sci-fi-driven comedies he keeps making. Plus, the tone of the film is generally sweet-natured, making for a film that’s difficult to actively dislike.
Nonetheless, no matter what the movie gets right, it’s still a romcom, and we still know exactly what’s going to happen, right down to the misunderstanding and the inevitable big, romantic reconciliation. What could have been an OK little movie is instead an incredibly predictable—and by proxy, tedious and unsurprising—one. Rated R for sexual content, language and some drug material.