Just Friends

(2005) ** Pg-13
94 min. New Line Cinema. Director: Roger Kumble. Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Amy Smart, Anna Faris, Christopher Marquette, Chris Klein.

Thank goodness for small favors: Just Friends is the best film yet made starring Ryan Reynolds. It's also an overly familiar cartoon schema of a romantic comedy, stitched together from the most monstrous parts of Meet the Parents, Shallow Hal, and American Pie (one punchline, clearly overdubbed late in the editing stage, shamelessly plagiarizes a memorable ad-lib from hit comedy The 40 Year-Old Virgin). Brush aside the pratfalls, cheap-shot fat jokes, and creative variety of crotch attacks, and what's left? Not a lick of emotional sense.

Reynolds plays Chris Brander, an overweight teen tortured by his weight and inability to win the heart of his "just friends" love Jamie (Amy Smart). Ten years later, we see that Chris has willed himself thin and filthily successful (as a music-industry exec). Stephen Root flits by long enough to squeeze out approximately one chuckle while assigning Chris a terrible task: to escort his ex-girlfriend Samantha James (Anna Faris) to record her new album, a hideous-kinky concoction with the lead-off single "Forgiveness" ("To forgive is divine, so let's have a glass of wine/And have make up sex until the end of time").

Reynolds mugs effectively in his fat suit (especially in his lip-sync of All-4-One's "I Swear," positioned by director Roger Kumble to be the film's bookends), but Chris' transformation from "dweeb" to Reynolds' trademark slick asshole is strictly a movie "reality," and Chris' reactions to plot turns are the gestures of an insane man, an idiot, or both. Reynolds develops snappy rapport with Christopher Marquette (who plays Chris' younger brother), but their relationship mostly consists of reenacting Three Stooges fights.

As the ditzy diva, the screamingly funny Faris turns a catlike "Reowrrr!" into a disturbing sexual euphemism and upbraids romantic-comedy convention with what sounds an awful lot like a well-timed, naughty ad-lib: "Ooh, the big speech." Julie Hagerty, bless her, is still funny with her decades-old schtick of genteel emotional fragility, and Chris Klein goes for broke as Chris' unpredictable romantic rival. But with both men proving to be bipolar jerks, why should anyone invest emotion or interest in Just Friends? Just asking.

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