Ryan Reynolds, the honeymoon is definitely over. I forgave you for Van Wilder when you made Blade Trinity, and I was ready to add points after Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. But then it was a downhill slide with The Amityville Horror and Waiting. While Just Friends may be no worse than Waiting (a debatable point), it’s nonetheless the film where I say, “Enough!”
OK, you’re an appealing-looking, slightly fey performer who tends to get by by winking at the camera, though I’m more and more believing you’re really winking at your own reflection in the lens. Regardless, you choose projects with less evident concern as to their quality than John Carradine did — and he opted to star in Billy the Kid Vs. Dracula.
What we have with Just Friends is neither fish nor fowl, though foul it is. It’s half bargain-basement Farrelly Brothers made by people who don’t understand the Farrellys’ half bad-taste comedy.
The ersatz Farrelly side of the film is quite simply a mess. Just Friends is obviously inspired by Shallow Hal — in which the main character can only see the inner beauty of people and so falls in love with a singularly large girl, who looks to him like Gwyneth Paltrow; then, when he can see what she really looks like, he soon realizes that he loves her anyway. Here we have a guy, Chris Brander (Ryan Reynolds), who was fat in high school, and even though the gorgeous Jamie Palomino (Amy Smart, Starsky and Hutch) can see his inner beauty, she just doesn’t see him romantically and prefers to sleep around with jocks for whom the term “Neanderthal” would be a compliment.
So we flash forward 10 years to find that Chris has now become a svelte, smarmy and shallow record-company executive, who returns to his hometown with an impossible, oversexed “singer” (Anna Faris, Waiting) in tow (think Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson). I never was 100 percent clear on why they’re in his hometown, except that it suits the plot. And wouldn’t you know it? Despite the supposedly hilarious mishaps that befall Chris and Jamie’s reunion, the new, trimmer model of Chris can get the girl of his dreams after all. There’s a message here and it’s not very pretty (it’s also the antithesis of the one in Shallow Hal).
The bad-taste-comedy side of the film is another matter entirely. That part crashes and burns because the movie refuses to lose its potential teen-date-movie audience — requiring a PG-13 rating, which in turn requires the film to never get past moderately doubtful taste.
Perhaps because Bad Santa was a surprise hit (and incomprehensibly so), or perhaps because Ted Demme’s The Ref has become something of a cult classic for folks who don’t much like Christmas, Just Friends has been given a wholly superfluous Yuletide setting. It really doesn’t matter that the movie takes place at Christmas — apart for some predictable slapstick involving the destruction of a lot of Christmas decorations, it might as well take place at Shavuot. But the setting allows the film to stake a tenuous claim as being naughtily nasty about the season. Ho-ho hum.
If any of this was very funny, it wouldn’t matter so much; instead, Just Friends merely plods along, hitting all the requisite bases to get it to its predetermined end. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, including some dialogue.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke