I came to Friends With Benefits with the hope that writer-director Will Gluck would take aim at the romantic comedy with the same piquant mischievous zeal he displayed in 2010’s Easy A a film that earned him comparisons to such hallowed figures as Alexander Payne and John Hughes. And he does—for a while at least. The film springs from the gate with a fun revisionist élan promising to lay waste to the stale conventions that have long characterized the genre. A promise that in the end is sadly unfulfilled.
Attractive twentysomethings Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) first meet as business associates—he’s a savvy web designer she’s a spunky headhunter who lures him to New York to work for GQ. Both happen to be recovering from nasty breakups (he was dumped by a Jon Mayer obsessive played by Emma Stone; her by a cloying slacker played by Andy Samberg) and they bond over their shared exasperation with relationships and romance.
One night wallowing in their mutual malaise over beer and pizza and an insipid rom-com (a fictitious film-within-a-film featuring uncredited Jason Segel and Rashida Jones) they hit on an idea: Why not use each other to sate our primal urges without all the hassles and complications that committed relationships entail? (That this is the first time either has pondered cohabitation strikes me as a bit disingenuous: Both rank among the upper-percentile of desirable people; surely the notion might have at least briefly occurred to them before?)
The pack is formalized by an oath sworn over a iPad bible app (the film is gratuitously tech-chic to the point of employing flash mobs as plot devices) and consummated in one of the film’s funniest scenes. Freed from any pretensions of romance and from any fears of embarrassment or rejection they approach the act from the perspective of two people seeking only to maximize their enjoyment. (He encourages her to look at it as a game of tennis.) They calmly recite their preferences idiosyncrasies and deal-breakers like agents negotiating a contract; during the deed they critique each others’ performance with utter candor offering helpful guidance when it’s called for. (She shows particular disdain for a technique called “The Tornado.”)
They’re hanging out they’re having sex; the only thing missing obviously is intimacy. It’s inevitable—at least in the peculiar moral universe inhabited by studio rom-coms—that one or both of them will come to crave it. And that’s when complications arise both for Dylan and Jamie and for the filmmakers. Faced with two roads Gluck opts to take the more-traveled one and Friends With Benefits gradually—and disappointingly—yields to convention affirming many of the rom-com tropes and clichés it initially seemed intent on skewering.
That the film is funny—wry and quick and (at least initially) irreverent—helps alleviate the let-down of its second-half surrender to formula. Kunis and Timberlake make for able verbal sparring partners their chemistry is real and their interplay natural and unforced. Accustomed to smaller roles and guest-hosting spots on SNL Timberlake acquits himself nicely in Friends With Benefits even if he at times appears outmatched by Kunis. I’m not quite prepared to forgive him for The Love Guru but I’m getting there.
October 12, 2004 12:05pm EST
Reeve's animated feature moves forward
Yankee Irving, a computer-animated feature film that Christopher Reeve had been directing at the time of his death last weekend, will remain in production, producer Morris Berger told The Associated Press yesterday. But Berger said IDT Entertainment had not yet decided who will take over as director. "We've just been addressing personal issues and the great loss and reassuring our staff that the production will go on," he said. "Tomorrow we'll think those things through." Yankee Irving is about a father and his baseball playing son who overcomes personal obstacles to realize his dreams. Reeve, who had overseen the project for the past year, once described it as "captivating, with the perfect blend of warmth and wit." Reeve had been overseeing the film's production from his home office in Pound Ridge, N.Y., through a videoconferencing system set up by IDT, and regularly sent electronic files of character designs and animatics filled with notes to the company's animation production offices. Voice casting and theatrical distribution for Yankee, which is scheduled for release sometime in 2006, have yet to be announced. The Superman star died Sunday after suffering a heart attack and slipping into a coma the previous day. He was 52.
FCC to fine Fox for indecency violation
The Federal Communications Commission is reportedly preparing to levy a $1 million fine against Fox Broadcasting Co. and its affiliates for indecency violations dating back to April 2003 with an episode of the reality show Married by America, Reuters reports. According to Monday's edition of Television Week, the content in question involved lascivious banter among Married contestants and a segment that involved contestants licking whipped cream off each other's bodies. The weekly newspaper reported the fine stemmed from a complaint lodged by watchdog group the Parents Television Council. The fine comes less than a month after the FCC formally issued its $550,000 fine against CBS for Janet Jackson breast-baring incident during the Super Bowl telecast in February 2003.
Travolta to guest star on Alley's Fat Actress
Kirstie Alley, whose upcoming Showtime series Fat Actress is set to debut in March, will be in good company. The AP reports Alley's Look Who's Talking co-star John Travolta will make a guest appearance on the seven-episode, unscripted comedy series. Based on Alley's real-life struggles, the show follows a semi-fictional film and TV star as she comically contends with an unforgiving public and media over her struggles with weight. The actors will largely improvise based on a story outline. Travolta joins several guest stars slated for the reality hybrid, including his own actress wife, Kelly Preston, NBC Universal TV Group President Jeff Zucker and Hangin' With Mr. Cooper's Mark Curry.
Democrats want anti-Kerry docu shelved
The Democratic Party is expected to file a complaint today with the Federal Election Commission against the broadcasting company Sinclair Broadcast Group for their plans to air a documentary criticizing presidential candidate John Kerry, the AP reports. Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, made by Vietnam veteran and former journalist Carlton Sherwood, chronicles Kerry's 1971 testimony before Congress and includes interviews with Vietnam prisoners of war and their wives, who claim Kerry's testimony demeaned them and led their captors to hold them longer. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe argues Sinclair is acting as a mouthpiece for the Republican Party rather than a legitimate news outlet. Campaign finance records show that company's executives have donated thousands of dollars to Bush's campaign.
Cates to take on Academy Awards again
Gil Cates has signed on to produce next year's Academy Awards, making it his 12th time behind the star-studded Hollywood bash, AP reports. "With 11 shows under his belt, no other producer, living or dead, even comes close to the depth of Gil's experience," said Frank Pierson, President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "We're lucky to have him back." Cates added, "I already have ideas whirling around in my head and can't wait to see them through to fruition on Oscar night." The 77th Academy Awards will be preceded by the telecast of the Academy's official pre-show red carpet arrivals from 5 to 5:30 p.m., which Cates will also executive produce.
Apprentice Troy McClain shopping for a college
Troy McClain, who was fired by Donald Trump during the first season of the TV reality show The Apprentice, is currently fielding offers from several colleges and universities, including Boise State, Columbia University and Albertson College of Idaho. McClain, who was one of the most successful and popular members on the inaugural season of The Apprentice, later said on his Tonight Show appearance it was his lack of a college degree eventually did him in. Trump heard his comment and offered to send McClain to the college of his choice. "This man, with an education, will be unbeatable," Trump said at the time. McClain started looking hard at Boise State after President Bob Kustra contacted him personally over the summer, his manager Ed Moore told the AP.
Madonna, Prince top Billboard touring awards
Madonna is one of the top finalist for Billboard's Backstage Pass Awards, which recognizes top achievements in touring and are based on ticket sales tabulated in Billboard's Boxscore Reports, LaunchMusic reports. Other finalists include Prince, Shania Twain, Josh Groban, Linkin Park and John Mayer. The awards will be presented Nov. 8 and 9 in New York.
Kit Bowen contributed to this report.
August 17, 2001 8:30am EST
In the same vein as the 1963 comedy romp It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and the 1981 The Cannonball Run Rat Race centers around a group of people who go dashing around the country for a big prize. In this incarnation the action starts in Las Vegas where billionaire hotel owner Donald Sinclair (John Cleese) gathers up eight people in his casino and sets them off on a race for $2 million hidden in a locker in New Mexico. He then places bets on whose going to get there first. The eight consist of two scheming brothers (Seth Green and Vince Vieluf) a disgraced NFL referee (Cuba Gooding Jr.) a mother and the daughter she gave up for adoption (Whoopi Goldberg and Lanei Chapman) a beleaguered family man and his wife (Jon Lovitz and Kathy Najimy) an uptight lawyer (Breckin Meyer) who hooks up with a cute helicopter pilot (Amy Smart) and a goofy narcoleptic Italian (Rowan Atkinson).
Like its predecessors Race combines a group of really talented comedians. Somehow this technique harms a film rather than helps it. It stems mostly from the fact that having such a large cast only gives the actors a limited amount of screen time. It's hard for any of them to truly shine. Yet in Race there are a few that just have to stand out. Cleese and Atkinson are among the best of the veterans especially Atkinson whose comedic physicality comes almost solely from his elastic face. And as far as the best of the younger set Green and Vieluf do a fair job having to wade through the horrendous antics presented to them shining for a brief moment when Vieluf (who can't speak properly because of his tongue stud) tells a sob story about their mother. However Goldberg Lovitz and Najimy are completely wasted--and Gooding Jr. just comes off as ridiculous.
In a nutshell Race is just too darn silly much like Mad Mad World was. Outrageous comedies work better in small doses such as There's Something About Mary or even Caddyshack. But when eight different story lines vie to outdo each other in outrageousness it's disastrous. Things can't get much worse than a car chasing after a hot-air balloon somehow hooking a cow to the balloon and having the cow end up hitting the windshield of a bus full of Lucille Ball look-alikes. Or how about crashing Hitler's car into a meeting of World War II veterans and having an ink mark on your upper lip that looks suspiciously like a mustache? There are a few brief moments where you chuckle out loud like when Cleese and his band of cronies start betting on which hotel maid would drop first while hanging from a curtain rod. Other than that the film simply lapses into pure drivel.
The woman who accused Don Johnson of groping her in January at a San Francisco sushi bar filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Nash Bridges star, The Associated Press reports. The unidentified woman's lawsuit accuses Johnson of sexual battery, assault and battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and asks for monetary damages. Prosecutors refused in early May to file criminal charges against Johnson, who has said that there is no merit to the woman's accusations.
Next stop, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. The city announced Thursday that it will rename the airport in honor of Armstrong on Aug. 2, two days before the legendary jazz musician would have turned 100, Reuters reports. The Federal Aviation Administration said that this is most likely the first major U.S. airport to be named after a black musician.
Looks like Jay Leno will never be able to go home again. A developer plans to tear down the Tonight Show host's Massachusetts childhood home to make way for a $2.6 million, five-bedroom house, AP reports. Leno said he would not have sold the 1950s home in Andover had he known developer Todd Wacome's intentions.
Arnold Schwarzenegger and former South African President Nelson Mandela teamed up Thursday to raise awareness of the Special Olympics. They took a ferry from Cape Town harbor to Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years as a prisoner of a former apartheid regime, to light a Special Olympics torch, AP reports.
Watch out Ann-Margret, here comes Carmen Electra. The former Mrs. Dennis Rodman will become a Las Vegas mainstay after signing a two-year deal to star in her own show at the Aladdin hotel-casino, AP reports. The former Baywatch star will perform 12 shows a week, beginning next year.
The Doctor is in, but only online. The BBC will transmit the first new Doctor Who adventure since 1996 on Friday via the sci-fi's show's official Web site at www.bbc.co.uk. Doctor Who last appeared in a TV movie that aired on Fox in the United States. Sylvester McCoy, the seventh actor to portray the Timelord, returns for Death Comes to Time.
If you thought NBC's Spy TV was merely a reality series, think again. The hidden-camera show "plays much more like a comedy, Variety quotes NBC entertainment president Jeff Zucker as saying. One practical joke included a man who, thinking he is going out to test a new car, begs to be let out of the car as he is taken on a terrifying high-speed drive through city streets.
Kirk Douglas has lent his support to a campaign to save the Indian Hills Theater, which houses the country's largest Cinerama screen, AP reports. Methodist Health Systems, which bought the recently closed theater, plans to demolish it and build a parking lot in its place. Renovations would be too costly, Methodist Health Systems said. Douglas joins Janet Leigh and film critic Leonard Maltin in trying to save the theater, one of three left in the country that can still show Cinerama films.