Forget Black Swan – Natalie Portman’s real crowning performance is to be found in the romantic comedy No Strings Attached in which director Ivan Reitman asks her to convey sincere unqualified affection for Ashton Kutcher. Portman much to her credit gamely complies and though she may not have the emaciated figure bloody nails and bandaged ankles to tell of her labors the psychic scars must no doubt be just as severe.
Exhibiting strong chick-flick leanings and a rambunctious soft-R comic tone (i.e. lots of F-bombs some menstrual humor and a few shots of Kutcher’s naked ass) No Strings Attached is built around a basic relationship role-reversal: The dude Adam (Kutcher) longs for a deeper lasting commitment; the chick Emma (Portman) insists on keeping matters purely physical. Emma’s motive is a practical one: As a doctor-to-be her busy residency schedule with its 80-hour work weeks and intensive exam preparations precludes a serious relationship. But alas a woman has certain needs (foreplay apparently not being among them) and who better to fulfill them than Kutcher’s non-threatening boy-toy?
Thus a “friends with benefits” arrangement is cemented whereupon the ripcord is to be pulled on the occasion that either of them develops stronger feelings. This does not last long for soon Adam is cloyingly lobbying for escalation. Emma demurs – not out of disinterest we are told but because she’s intimacy-averse and afraid of a broken heart. Why else would she resist a more permanent attachment to someone like Adam?
Perhaps it’s because Adam as played by Kutcher is about as interesting as cabbage. And yet No Strings Attached would have us believe he’s some kind of floppy-haired Albert Schweitzer. This despite the fact that his greatest aspiration in life is to join the writing staff of a High School Musical-esque television series the shallow inanity of which is one of the film’s recurring jokes. In vain support of his cause the filmmakers decorate Adam’s apartment with various props – vintage posters books about 1920s movies a guitar that is occasionally picked up but never actually played – that hint at a depth that Kutcher himself never manifests.
Still Portman sells us on Adam and Emma’s inevitable union with every ounce of her not inconsiderable talent. (And her comic chops are legit – as those who’ve glimpsed her appearances on SNL and Funny or Die can attest.) But she asks too much. And Elizabeth Meriweather’s script while witty and stocked with some keen observations on the evolving nature of relationships in the modern age becomes weighed down by sentiment unbecoming an R-rated comedy not directed by Judd Apatow. In the end Kutcher seals the increasingly contrived deal with the climactic line “I’m warning you: Come one step closer and I’m never letting you go ” (I’m paraphrasing but not loosely) by which time the film's already lost its grip.
Today’s youngsters haven’t been scared to death nearly enough. With two wars, a recession, and the rise of Spencer Pratt, kids don’t have anything to make them stay up at night. Luckily, a Goosebumps movie should change that.
Columbia bought the rights to the film in 2008 from author R.L. Stine and just hired a screenwriter for the project, Carl Ellsworth (though Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander worked on the original draft some time ago). Ellsworth’s previous credits include Disturbia and the stalled Red Dawn remake. The Hollywood Reporter notes that he seems to have found a favorite subject: putting kids in danger. While most of us wish we could scare the crap out of the snot nosed brat down the hall, Ellsworth gets to do it. Lucky jerk.
Goosebumps have sold over 300 million copies worldwide. The only series that has beat those numbers is the Harry Potter franchise and the film adaptations of J.K. Rowling's literary phenomenon have done decently at the box office ($5.4 billion worldwide from 6 films with two more left to go). Stine penned 62 books in the original series so there is plenty of material to draw from (perhaps from my personal favorite title, Say Cheese and Die - Again!).
Children’s horror films are an unusual genre. Goosebumps, the book series managed to be creepy and legitimately scary but still accessible to the younger audience. Finding the same balance on screen will be a challenge. Current horror films (Saw, Hostel, remakes of 80’s slasher films) aren’t appropriate for kids, even though they sneak in and see them because that’s what kids do. So they’ll basically have to step up the gore and frighten the kids, but still make it family friendly enough so the parents will buy tickets. Sounds easy enough.
Source: Hollywood Reporter