There was a visit to this comedy realm already, with January’s “No Strings Attached.” It wasn’t funny or particularly romantic then and a second pass at the trials and tribulations of the young and loveless yields pretty much the same entertainment value.
“Friends with Benefits” isn’t simply charmless, it’s poorly scripted, edited with a butter knife, and features two lead actors turning blue as they frantically flail to overcompensate for their lack of chemistry. Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis look swell with their clothes off, but does it really matter when they generate a sibling-like sense of sexual connection?
A corporate headhunter living in New York City, Jamie (Mila Kunis) is tasked with convincing Los Angeles-bred magazine art director Dylan (Justin Timberlake) to move to the east coast. Accepting a position with GQ, Dylan looks to Jamie for company, eager to make a friend in the strange city.
As the two bond and play, they decide a sexual relationship is in order, doing away with all the bad vibes of commitment. Commencing bedroom gymnastics, Jamie and Dylan find their situation clicks beautifully until it becomes clear devotion is starting to form. Freaking out, the duo is blasted by the harsh light of love, threatening their tightly choreographed dance of the pants.
“Friends with Benefits” is a tart concept saddled with an unnecessarily cumbersome script. Obviously, it’s not the most original film idea around, but there’s a potential here to explore the peril of loveless sex that two movies have now bungled. Where “No Strings Attached” was unfunny and idiotic, “Benefits” is clumsy and equally humorless, endeavoring to construct a romantic comedy that makes fun of other romantic comedies while employing every last convention of the romantic comedy genre.
It’s a screenplay of cheats and unpleasantries, with director Will Gluck (the insipid “Fired Up” and “Easy A”) looking to nudity from Timberlake (Kunis elects for an obvious body double) to keep the target demographic content, using gratuitous rear end shots to deflect attention away from a rotten, shallow motion picture.
For the first hour, “Benefits” assumes the appearance of the cartwheeling sex film, following Dylan and Jamie as they tiptoe their way under the 1000 thread count sheets, building a snarky friendship that can withstand such intensive intimacy. Gluck serves up the grinding and the one-liners, exploring the ease between the two as they devour each other’s private parts while chipping away personal barriers.
Of course these two are going to fall in love, yet the script makes a point to ridicule romantic comedy formula, therefore promising a few unexpected twists ahead. Refreshing impediments never arrive. Gluck hints at subversion but elects for submission, with the pair soon slamming headfirst into the complications of love.
Well, the complications of love and Alzheimer’s disease. Oh yes, in the middle of this hard R-rated sex romp, a film that features Dylan dealing with pee boners and Jamie providing oral sex lessons to her clueless mate, there’s a character (Dylan’s father, played by Richard Jenkins) with a degenerative malady, who forgets everything and refuses to wear pants in public.
Titillating, right? Gluck and the script downshift into drama for the second half of the picture, assuming these characters are lovable enough to take seriously. Unfortunately, the blend of frothy sex farce and sobering melodrama is nauseating, an irritant exacerbated by Timberlake’s limitations as an actor.
Also strange? There are more than few references to Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s 2009 airplane landing in the Hudson River, and the film opens and closes with flash mob performances. Keep in mind the feature is set in 2011.
“Friends with Benefits” feels like two different movies stitched together, leaving Gluck wrestling with the tone, eventually tapping out completely with a tiresome break-up-to-make-up finale. Naked gorgeous people, bi-coastal tourism, Captain Sully references. This movie should be more amusing. Instead, it’s predictable raunch with a side of depression.