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Published: Wednesday, 11/23/2005

Movie review: Just Friends *


Who is this Ryan Reynolds?

Where does he come from?

Why does he ruin everything?

The man is a fascination, a C-list Jim Carrey who suggests the smugness of Chevy Chase with wry hints of Bill Murray and a 16-year old who thinks you're, like, really stupid and he's going to his room and he hates you, he hates you!, and he wishes he was never born. He is the most tone-deaf actor of his generation; and probably a nice guy (he is engaged, after all, to thoughtful Alanis Morissette). But he's also oblivious to everyone around him, never reacting to what other performers say, but rather waiting to slip in his put-downs.

Normally a lanky, snarky star of B-minus comedies (National Lampoon's Van Wilder), forgettable horror pictures (the Amityville remake), and franchises past their prime (Blade: Trinity), Reynolds tip-toes into Ben Stiller Territory with his latest, Just Friends, opening today.

, is aAnd his movie is to the Farrelly brothers' patented blend of sweet and sick what National Lampoon's Van Wilder is to National Lampoon's Animal House. A comedy can be as obvious as a hammer to the head and still be funny, but you don't tend to appreciate the grace with which that hammer is wielded until you see it used without finesse.

For instance, Stiller, in a modern classic like There's Something About Mary, is generous not to devour every actor around him, however capable of it he can be; Reynolds, in a film that takes Mary as sacred text, tries nothing but. The result is so off-putting, when he's supposed to be sympathetic, we get a jerk, and when he's meant to be a jerk, we get a jerk, and when he's redeemed by the love of a good woman (Amy Smart, too luminous not to work more often), we've got a big jerk.

He takes on that overconfident voice of a third-rate TV reporter, and it smothers the gentle vibe this low-key comedy aims for. He plays a fat kid who thins out. And not soon enough: his fatty suit is laughably bad, and so cheaply applied, we can see the creases where the latex met Reynolds' skin. Anyway, he grows up to be a music-industry big wig, and flies home to New Jersey for the first time in 10 years - just in time for Christmas, and towing along a Britney-Ashlee-Beyonce hybrid superstar, played by a convincingly insane Anna Faris.

There is a plot.

Just not the one I wanted.

Just Friends is about how much people change after high school, and it has a goofier, more interesting picture hovering at its margins, waiting to be noticed: the one about the bubble-gum star so removed from everyday life, she has no idea what suburbs even look like. Faris is up for it, too: If Reynolds chomps, she nibbles, and by the end, she's made herself a meal of scraps.

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