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No Strings Attached

Sex Ruins Everything

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars.

With Valentine’s Day nearly on the horizon, it’s only appropriate that studios start unfurling romantic comedies to satiate any and all hopeless romantics. No Strings Attached leads the charge with a vaguely interesting premise revolving around the idea of two lovers maintaining a “no strings attached” romance revolving exclusively around casual sex. These kinds of things never work well in real life, and it doesn’t work out much better in No Strings Attached.

It would seem that Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma (Natalie Portman) are fated to be together. They first cross paths at camp fifteen years ago, and while it’s clear (even in awkward adolescence) that they’re attracted to each other, Emma is (inexplicably) a devout commitment-phobe. They go their separate ways only to cross paths again and again. Finally, they consummate the act and tread down the path of a mutually beneficial sexual relationship sans commitment.

Emma’s rationalization for not committing to anything terribly serious makes a modicum of sense given the rigors of her job. She’s a physician and logs eighty hours a week. Taking care of a plant, let alone a serious relationship, would be challenging for anyone in her position. But, Emma’s real issue is she’s an admitted commitment-phobe.

Natalie Portman does a reasonable job portraying the clearly conflicted Emma, but the biggest problem is there’s never any real substantive explanation for why she’s so afraid of getting involved in something where strings are attached. Portman is innately charming and beautiful, but Emma’s emotional immaturity is not. Consequently, she comes across as juvenile and sophomoric.

Ashton Kutcher’s Adam is no less vapid and shallow and matches Portman’s unattractive Emma note for note. Kutcher plays his one-note talent for all its worth, but it isn’t enough to make Adam any more likable than Emma. Kutcher is admittedly gifted at playing dopey half-wits who only have their good looks to help them get by. But Adam (and every variant thereof) invariably annoys and infuriates in short order. Does anyone actually like seeing Kutcher on screen?

No less infuriating is the feeble and transparent story complementing the two hackneyed performances of Portman and Kutcher. Emma’s conflicted, but clearly has feelings for Adam. She pushes him away, pulls him back, rinse, and repeat. What complications are thrown in the path of this couple never really seem significant and given that it’s hard to like either one of them, it’s hard to care what happens at the end of the day. Perhaps neophyte writer Elizabeth Meriweather is to blame for this train wreck.

Even with a somewhat challenged script, you would think a seasoned director of lighthearted comedies like Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) would be able to salvage this mess and cobble together something palatable. Alas, Reitman’s directing chops would appear to be a bit rusty as No Strings Attached fails to deliver many decent laughs, believable romance, or entertainment.

What we’re left with is an early frontrunner for the worst film of 2011. The only real saving grace with No Strings Attached is a strong supporting cast including Kevin Kline, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Mindy Kaling, and Jake Johnson, who provide occasional chuckles. Unfortunately, their collective efforts just aren’t enough to rescue this celluloid turd.