Just Friends (2005) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, crude humor and sexual humor
Running Time: 96 min.
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Amy Smart, Anna Faris, Chris Klein, Christopher Marquette, Julie Hagerty
Director: Roger Kumble
Screenplay: Adam "Tex" Davis
Review published February 26, 2006
Just Friends is a silly slapstick romantic comedy, not too dissimilar from the kind of movie generally associated with Farrelly Brothers' or Adam Sandler's style of humor. It's sophomoric, reveling in cheesy music and attitudes, while the characters are all off-the-wall eccentric in a wildly bipolar fashion. Surprisingly, for a dumb comedy, there are actually some effective moments interspersed between the pratfalls, but the lack of subtle charm and grace eventually does mar the film's overall appeal.
Ryan Reynolds (Waiting..., The Amityville Horror) dons the "fat suit" as he plays rotund New Jersey high school senior Chris Brander, a sweet-natured guy who has been best friends with one of the school's hottest girls, Jamie Palomino (Smart, The Butterfly Effect). Chris appreciates the friendship, but now on the verge of graduation, he feels it's time to admit to Jamie the one thing he has kept hidden throughout the relationship -- he is in love with her. The truth does come out, but not in the way he hoped that it would, and humiliated, the two drift apart.
Fast forward ten years to find Chris as a hotshot record producer, making big bucks and no longer the chubby guy he was in high school. His latest assignment is to get the contract for the new album by pop sensation Samantha James (Faris, Scary Movie 3), a crazy free-spirited psycho that he must pretend to woo for his record company. A fluke forces their Paris-bound airplane down in New Jersey, and while they are stuck there for a few days, they stay at Chris' mom's house. Chris is the envy of many in the town that he once new, with his new awesome physique and success, but the one person not impressed by his less-than-sweet personality is his old crush, Jamie. Chris lays on the moves, but the more he tries, the less she seems to like the new him. With another suitor on the make in singer/ambulance guy Dusty (Klein, The Long Weekend), the competition is on as to which loser-turned-catch will bag Jamie for a happily ever after.
Had director Roger Kumble (Cruel Intentions, The Sweetest Thing) decided to make this a more subdued comic romance, like the movies that John Cusack would make in the 1980s, Just Friends might have had a chance to be a real winner. Unfortunately, whenever it looks like the movie might veer into the realm of being a deeper experience, more superficially broad gags are infused in. as if Kumble and Reynolds didn't want to be seen as too soft in their delivery. While they do manage to get the laughs, it comes at the cost of the romance, and the unevenness in tone keeps this vehicle grounded into mediocrity for the duration. Note to future filmmakers: stop letting Ryan Reynolds ad-lib; his juvenile comic tendencies go completely against the grain of most films he is in.
Chalk up the reason why Just Friends doesn't work to cold feet, as the makers seem too afraid to really try to make something poignant out of this interesting idea. That it actually does manage to work a certain magic at times only serves to frustrate more when it comes crashing back down into crass behavior again. For a movie about a self-centered jerk that has to find his inner sweetness to be loved, it's ironic that those that concocted this premise think they need to go into "jerk mode" whenever things look like they might be sweet. Like Jamie, we tend to like the sweet side more, you a-holes.
©2006 Vince Leo