Ten years ago, overweight teen Chris (Ryan Reynolds) was in love with his best friend, Jamie (sweetly played by Amy Smart). Looking to profess his love to her, Chris was instead rebuffed, and pushed aside as a "friend." Now newly svelte and successful in Los Angeles, Chris learns he must escort a dim-witted, horny pop starlet (Anna Faris) to Paris, only to find the plane rerouted near his hometown in New Jersey. Back home again for the holidays, Chris makes it his goal to finally sleep with Jamie, only to be thwarted when another reformed geek (Chris Klein) from high school makes a play for her too.
The director of "Just Friends" (IMDb listing) is Roger Kumble. Kumble's last film, 2002's "The Sweetest Thing" was critically and financially mauled, and, in a way, justifiably so. I was one of the four people on the planet who enjoyed the film, but I could see how it might rub people the wrong way.
As witnessed in "Thing," Kumble doesn't have much finesse as a comedy director, and his new film, "Just Friends," clearly demonstrates that the man needs to learn when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. Kumble adores broad, physical comedy, enthusiastically encouraging his cast to mug shamelessly for the camera; but he has no idea how to wield his sword of silly. "Friends" is a madcap, slapstick romantic comedy that's heavy with pratfalls, crotch hits, and little kids swearing. It's a poorly stitched together film, with Kumble grabbing at anything that will provoke a response from his intended viewers, no matter how amateurish it makes him look.
In my review of the dreadful "Waiting" from last October, I went on and on about the comedic stylings of Ryan Reynolds, like the man was my new boyfriend. I still stand behind Reynolds's gift to wrestle a laugh out of almost any situation, but Kumble keeps the actor on a leash in "Friends." Reynolds still tags the majority of the laughs, but for the opening act he's the straight man to the humility of a fat suit (fast becoming an overused comedic idea), and to Anna Faris, who, in all the good ways, acts like she's from another planet. However, as the stress starts to swallow Chris, Reynolds comes out to play, and the laughs follow. Admittedly, it isn't all that hard to seem funny when sharing scenes with Chris Klein, but Reynolds still gives it a college try.
The best moments in "Just Friends" are the jokes Kumble doesn't obnoxiously point out (these are rare moments indeed). For example: the violent relationship between Chris and his younger brother (nicely played by Chris Marquette). Taking time out of the day to engage in a slapfight, the two are ruthless with each other, yet share a familial love that allows them to stop and start at a moment's notice. This is probably the most realistic brother relationship I've seen onscreen in years, and it hands the film some badly needed subtle laughs.
Underneath all the tomfoolery lies a film with a real truth about near-miss relationships, which I'm positive many can relate to. You just have to look behind Chris Klein flashing the metal horns and sticking out his tongue after landing a joke to find it. "Just Friends" is a funny production; it's just a disappointment that Kumble couldn't let the audience discover any moment of the film on their own.
Filmfodder Grade: B-