Judge Patrick Naugle has often been referred to as "The Little Wooden Boy."
Yarn not included.
Natalie Portman is an acclaimed, Oscar winning actress who has much critical and box office success. Ashton Kutcher used to host an MTV show where he "punked" celebrities and is married to once popular actress Demi Moore.
Welcome to the most unevenly matched movie pair since Mickey Rooney and Lady Gaga.
Facts of the Case
Emma (Natalie Portman, Black Swan) is a medical professional who has little time for complicated relationships. Adam (Ashton Kutcher, Killers) is a hard working television industry assistant who is reeling from his father's (Kevin Kline, Dave) decision to date his smoking hot ex-girlfriend. Emma and Adam's lives bump up against each other through the years (starting as kids at camp, where Adam tried to cop a feel), and during another random run-in the two decide to become sex partners and nothing more. Ground rules are established: no cuddling, no jealously and if one of them starts to fall in love all ties are immediately severed.
Okay, so now it's time for "Patrick's Pop Quiz!" Choose which answer you think best described what happens during the rest of the movie.
A. Adam realizes he's gay and moves to the Bahamas with a pool boy named Juan Chiquita (played by Hank Azaria, The Simpsons).
B. Emma and Adam fight, prompting Emma to take some time to herself and vacation to the island of Isla Nublar where she is promptly eaten by veloceraptors.
C. Adam and Emma put aside their complex relationship to help the mighty Autobots fight the evil Decepticons.
D. The world's tectonic plates shift, thrusting the earth into massive chaos as Adam and Emma must find a government funded boat that will allow them to carry on the human race.
E. All of the above (plus Batman).
If you were to crack open a dictionary (for younger readers: dictionaries are books, and books were made of paper culled from trees) to the word 'mediocre', you would find a picture of the movie poster for No Strings Attached. It's a film that falls squarely in the realm of being just passable enough that you're willing to sit through 'til the end, but not good enough that you feel like your time was truly well spent. It's a movie about pretty people with awesome jobs (doctors and filmmakers!) who are struggling with mindlessly humping each other when suddenly—gasp—they find themselves grappling with their feelings.
No Strings Attached features little in the way of surprises from its characters or story. The script by first time writer Elizabeth Meriwether feels like it was hammered out on a computer sitting next to an open copy of "Romantic Comedies 101." There isn't a single moment that will come as a surprise to seasoned or even novice viewers; I've seen more plot twists in a Scientology information pamphlet, and double the comedy. While the premise of the film holds promise—two people who want to connect physically but avoid emotional intimacy—any thoughtful commentary is squandered on penis jokes and lingering shots of Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher's torsos/breasts/thighs/buttocks.
It's a bit surprising that Portman followed up the award winning Black Swan with such a flaccid movie. One wonders what drew her to the script (especially considering she was one of the producers). It certainly couldn't be starring with Aston Kutcher, whose previous bright star is only a minor twinkle light at this point. Portman's Emma has all the complications of a three piece kid's puzzle—had her back story been fleshed out we may have had more empathy for her. As it stands, she's a hollow shell looking for sex without attachment. Ho-hum. Kutcher steps into a variation of his own persona—in other words, if you've seen one Kutcher performance, you've seen them all (seriously, tell me one movie where it looks like the guy is stretching his acting chops).
Did I laugh? Yes, a few times, but hardly ever at Kutcher and Portman's characters. Jake M. Johnson (Get Him to the Greek) and Gretta Gerwig (2011's Arthur remake) are both far more amusing as Emma and Adam's best friends who also feel the winds of romance blowing in their direction. Each actor brings a unique, winning quality to their characters; I wish the film would have sidelined the two leads and put Johnson and Gerwig front and center. Other actors are given even less to do; Kevin Kline's role as Adam's philandering father is underwritten and played strictly to frustrate Adam so he can bang his head against a table or appear bemused. Speaking of underwritten roles, what is the normally sharp Mindy Kaling (a writer/director/actor on TV's The Office) doing playing third banana, second tier characters?
To be fair, No Strings Attached is slightly better than a lot of romantic comedies Hollywood churns out on a monthly basis. I just wish that director Ivan Reitman (who has made far, FAR better movies like Stripes and Ghostbusters) had sat down to create a funnier, sharper movie than what ended up on screen. Portman is likable, attractive actress and Kutcher can be bearable when he's not obnoxious. As it stands, No Strings Attached is a tolerable Friday night rental with your significant other, but feels like it should have been something a LOT better than what it is.
No Strings Attached is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen in 1080p hi-definition. All things considered (mostly the genre, which can lend itself to boring images), the transfer for No Strings Attached looks very good. The colors burst at the seams and the black levels appear strikingly dark. This isn't an image that's going to blow you away as heavily as the latest action movie, but it's excellent for the source material.
The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and, while appropriate for the material, won't win any awards for giving your sound system a hefty workout. There are a few moments where surround sounds kick in (including some music cues and ambient noise), but generally this is a mild sound mix that is often very front heavy. Hey, it gets the job done and that's pretty much all that's required. Also included on this disc are Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes in English, French and Portuguese, as well as English, Spanish, French and Portuguese subtitles.
No Strings Attached does provide curious viewers with some extra features including an audio commentary by director Ivan Reitman discussing story, character and the general film shoot; a look at the screenplay and how it came to the screen ("Sex Friends: Getting Together"); a peek at the Glee-esque scenes in the film ("Inside the Sassy Halls of Secret High"); a ten minute featurette of the cast and crew discussing love and sex ("Modern Love: The Dos and Don'ts"); eleven minutes of deleted scenes; some alternate storyline scenes and a digital copy/DVD of the film.
No Strings Attached is a film that is SMF ("Standard Moviegoing Fare"). Nothing here will surprise you and it's about as substantial as cotton candy blowing through a Kansas windstorm. I'm sure there's a specific audience out there for these stars and this story, but I'm not really it. The disc itself is a fine presentation that should make BD owners happy.
No Strings Attached's alternate title could have been No Original Screenplay Attached. Or No Really Funny Jokes Attached. Or No Strong Morals Attached
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