Andy Bockelman: ‘Friends’ benefits from cute costars |

Andy Bockelman: ‘Friends’ benefits from cute costars

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

If three movie versions of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" can come out in one year, it stands to reason that having more than one film within 12 months with the exact same premise of a man and woman trying not to have a romantic relationship can't be any worse. Fortunately for the creators of "Friends with Benefits" their attempt remains closer to the Tom Cruise level than that of C. Thomas Howell.

Transitioning from Los Angeles to New York hasn't been easy for GQ art director Dylan (Justin Timberlake), but Jamie (Mila Kunis), the recruiter who convinced him to make the move, has made his adjustment less difficult. As the two of them become close friends, the inevitable question comes up as to whether or not they should pursue a romance together.

Both on the rebound from bad breakups, neither wants to be boyfriend/girlfriend, but it quickly dawns on them that they can still have a physical relationship without the hang-ups of being a couple. The plan works with flying colors, though the running commentary from Jamie's mother, Lorna (Patricia Clarkson), and Dylan's co-worker, Tommy (Woody Harrelson), is less than helpful.

However, as time goes on, the arrangement that sounded so simple has become more complicated than the two of them ever wanted, leaving their friendship hanging in the balance.

Timberlake is hardly believable as a master of journalistic Web site design, but we see more of his usual personality when he's not in the office — that of the endearing, slightly dorky heartthrob who makes all the girls swoon. He's well-matched by Kunis, whose Jamie doesn't fall for Dylan's "Aw, shucks" act, challenging him be more decisive in his life, though topics like work and love are off limits once the two of them hit the sheets.

Clarkson is a hoot as her imposing, free-willed mom, walking in on the pair at the worst possible moment and overstaying her welcome within minutes. Harrelson is a little much to take on the other end of the spectrum as Dylan's colleague, a sportswriter who fancies himself a fountain of relationship advice.

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And, if there's one person you want telling you how to fix your bond with your girl, it's the guy who writes about the Yankees.

Not all people in Dylan's life are so grating, with Jenna Elfman fine as his sister, Annie, and Richard Jenkins as good as always as his father, whose mind is slipping, adding a little drama to such a flighty affair.

With a formula so familiar that Carnation could package it and sell it in individually wrapped packets, it's hard to fathom anyone putting a fresh spin on the concept of a guy and a gal trying to stay friends while still enjoying carnal pleasures. The release of the frustrating "No Strings Attached" earlier this year only serves to be the closing argument that this movie should be doomed to fail.

However, director/co-writer Will Gluck is determined to poke fun at romantic comedies as much as he can, which adds considerably to his latest project. Like in last year's "Easy A," Gluck calls attention to the predictability of similar movies while still playing well within these same conventions.

The relationship between Dylan and Jamie isn't nearly unorthodox enough to break free of these constraints, but Timberlake and Kunis make it work. The two are both capable comic talents, and even when the script is weak, they keep it going even if it means providing their own background music during sex.

By the way Dylan, "Closing Time" is not a Third Eye Blind song.

"Friends with Benefits" has the misfortune of being released after so many bland relationship movies, which is certain to make audiences less than enthusiastic about seeing another. But, that same succession of mediocrity makes a good target for our couple here to heckle within their own story.

Hey, there's a benefit right there.

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“Friends with Benefits”

2.5 out of 4 stars

120 minutes

Starring: Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Patricia Clarkson and Woody Harrelson.