Billy Crystal's titular character in 1989's "When Harry Met Sally..." clearly hit the nail on the head when it comes to men and women. Early on in the knowing romantic comedy, he tells Meg Ryan's character that friendship between those on opposite sides of the gender divide can't be friends because one or both will eventually long for the other in a way that's decidedly non-platonic. Of course, the problem usually lies in the fact that such feelings often don't coincide or, worse yet, are only one-sided.
Such is the case in the appropriately titled "Just Friends" where Ryan Reynolds' character -- be it as an overweight, high school nerd or later as a trim and successful music executive -- can't manage to tell his best friend -- played by Amy Smart as the sort of high school beauty who doesn't realize she's a big tease -- that he wants to be more than just pals.
Yet, when she informs him that she loves him - but only "like a brother" -- he's crushed. Coupled with a humiliating outing of his true feelings at a graduation party where he's the butt of the joke, he's crushed, rushes off and reinvents himself. Then, via a rather unconvincing set of circumstances, he ends up back in her presence, and unconsciously resorts to his old ways.
Perhaps if "WHMS's" filmmaking pair of director Rob Reiner and screenwriter Nora Ephron had been behind the camera and word processor, this might have been an entertaining, funny and enlightening companion piece to their earlier work. Unfortunately, director Roger Kumble ("The Sweetest Thing," "Cruel Intentions") and writer Adam Davis (making his big screen debut) had a different sort of film in mind, and apparently that was a bad one. Okay, to be fair, I doubt that was their intention when they set out to make this comedy, but it's certainly the result.
Of course, any time such a picture starts with an otherwise trim and attractive performer in a "fat suit" playing a nerd, the red flags should immediately go up. While that might have worked with Eddie Murphy in "The Nutty Professor" and Courtney Cox in the flashback sequences TV's "Friends," it comes off as just a cheap and unoriginal gambit in this offering where both adjectives run amok throughout the production.
The early scenes with Reynolds in such a getup are supposed to make us laugh, and also empathize with his good-natured loser character. Yet, I found scenes such as him singing "I Swear" to himself in the mirror as fleetingly amusing at best (for those who can't get enough of that, stick around for the end credits as the same scene gets the extended treatment). Unfortunately, both versions just go on and on, much like the rest of the film that's been assembled without much care for logic or quality.
I've never been a big fan of Reynolds' work in the comedies he's done ("Waiting" and "Van Wilder"), finding him rather limited and repetitious in his "I'm so funny I'm smug" wiseacre persona. While that's toned down a bit here, there's still enough present to evoke memories of his previous efforts.
The bigger problem, however, lies with the script and direction of it. Apparently thinking they needed a comedic complication for the romantic comedy thrust, they've cast Anna Faris as an exaggerated Paris Hilton type character who's popular despite being untalented and bad mannered. Her character thinks that she and Reynolds' are still an item (after an apparent one time encounter) and that and her overall, whacked out attitude and demeanor are supposed to generate laughs.
Unfortunately, they're of the low-brow, frat boy type, and while some may find them funny, they did little for me. The same holds true for the physical confrontations between Reynolds and Christopher Marquette as brothers who seem to enjoy beating the stuffing out of each other for fun and kicks. In fact, the film is filled with attempts at physical comedy (of the slapstick and more mean-spirited variety -- including a hockey scene with bloody results), but the filmmakers never really try to do anything imaginative or creative with the material (instead, aiming for a sort of "Three Stooges" approach without the charm or talent).
The film's biggest problem, however, is its lack of logic and consistent behavior. There's no apparent reason why Reynolds' boss (played by Stephen Root, the nerdy office worker in "Office Space") would want him to sign Faris' obviously untalented character, and the way the filmmakers get their plane back into the protagonist's home town is uninspired and certainly not funny.
Then there's the overall issue that Reynolds' character has obviously turned into a proficient ladies man. Yet, whatever he's done to achieve and perfect that after his previous state as a high school dweeb --we're never shown what exactly that is other than losing weight -- completely evaporates when he's in the presence of his high school crush, played by Smart (who's cute in the high school scenes and rather flat and unconvincing in those set 10 years later). Apparently, the same thing happened to his hockey skills during his flight from LA to NJ.
The simple explanation, of course, is that the plot dictated he return to his nerdy, bumbling ways, but that only makes such changes seem convenient for the filmmakers rather than something that naturally or believably occurs. I suppose with a little bit of imagination, they might have been able to pull it off, but the way it plays out here is nothing but pure sloppiness and laziness.
I wish I could have said that I loved this romantic comedy, even if it was defined as just a platonic liking. Unfortunately, I can't because I didn't. While there are a few amusing moments scattered throughout the production, and thankfully it isn't quite as excruciatingly awful and labored as Reynolds' previous comedies, my advice is to just say no to "Just Friends."