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Just Friends

The Penalty Box of Dating

Ten years ago, Chris (Ryan Reynolds) was an awkward, overweight senior in high school with a painful crush on his best friend, Jamie (Amy Smart). On the last night of high school, Chris attempts to share the truth with Jamie with disastrous results. Embarrassed and humiliated as his entire class learns of his true feelings, Chris leaves town vowing to "show everyone".

A decade later, Chris has become a hot, womanizing music executive. The awkward, overweight high schooler is nowhere to be found. Chris now goes through women at the same rate he used to go through Twinkies; seemingly replacing one addiction for another.

Despite all the trappings of success, Chris is haunted by the past. Fortunately, he gets an opportunity to revisit the past when he finds himself back home for the Christmas holidays with the latest Britney Spears wannabe he's been tasked with taking care of. The rest of Just Friends follows Chris' vain attempts to reconnect with Jamie who is conveniently bartending at the local pub in Chris' hometown.

What unfolds is a series of ridiculous (and sometimes comical) mishaps and miscues as Chris tries to reconnect and presumably bed Jamie. Screenwriter Adam 'Tex' Davis concocts some fairly humorous scenarios that keep Just Friends afloat -- but just barely. One of the more humorous scenes involves Chris jumping into a pickup hockey game with some kids. In short order, Chris gets hacked, insulted, tormented, and ends up in the hospital.

Unfortunately, Just Friends doesn't consistently evoke painful fits of laughter. There are certain elements of the story that are completely glossed over and taken for granted. Admittedly, what Chris endured in high school was painful, but are we really supposed to believe that Chris simply left town and never came back again? This is what director Roger Kumble asks us to buy into.

Additionally, Kumble includes a ridiculous sibling rivalry between Chris and his younger brother, Mike (Chris Marquette). The two engage in a series of slap fights throughout Just Friends. While presumably the inclusion of this slapstick is supposed to be funny, but it really just seems puerile and tedious after the first two or three rounds. We're supposed to be rooting for Chris and seeing him beat up his younger brother doesn't help this cause.

Fortunately, Just Friends is well cast with a group of actors who have cut their chops on a number of teen gross out comedies. Anna Farris plays the minx-like, Britney Spears wannabe that Chris can't seem to get rid of. Chris Klein is funny as Chris' rival suitor (and former loser), Dusty Dinkelman.

The real standout here is Ryan Reynolds as reformed fatty, Chris. Reynolds has some of the funniest moments without even opening his mouth. He manages to elicit laughter with a look or a gesture. Given the right kind of material, Reynolds could really break out. While Just Friends may not be the one that does it for him, it's a step in the right direction.

Just Friends is a serviceable comedy that manages to do a decent job of entertaining for about half of the film. But, after about the first 45 minutes, the film seems to meander and lose steam. The funniest moments are those in which Chris is ardently trying to win Jamie back, but the fates and Chris's knack for screwing things up consistently get in his way. It's no 40-Year Old Virgin or Wedding Crashers as the marketing and advertising would indicate, but it's not a completely laugh less film either.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars