Just Friends (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

After watching a movie like Just Friends, I hurry home from the theater and take a shower so I can wash away the stink of the experience. There are bad movies and annoying movies, and this one contains elements of both. Spending 90 minutes with these characters should earn movie-goers at least a tee-shirt proclaiming their endurance. This would-be romantic comedy is neither romantic nor comedic, and it makes for must-see viewing for anyone who wonders how a seemingly "can't miss" premise can be thoroughly wrecked.

Most people who believe that high school is more about academics than athletics have heard this phrase at least once from a member of the opposite sex: "We're just friends." (It probably happens more often to boys than girls.) Plumbing this familiar situation has become so commonplace in Hollywood that it has spawned a romantic comedy sub-genre. John Hughes founded his career upon it. All that's needed to make a good "just friends" movie is a couple of charismatic leads and some chemistry. The plot is pure formula. Somehow, however, director Roger Kumble and writer Adam Davis don't come close to getting anything right.

This is Davis' first credited feature film, so it's tough to judge how much of the debacle is his fault. Just Friends is horribly written but, considering the Byzantine rules that lead to a screenwriting credit, little of what he penned may have made it to the screen. But Kumble has a track record, and it's an uninspired one. His previous movies, Cruel Intentions and The Sweetest Thing, were both trials to sit thought. It's amazing to consider that Just Friends is worse. The three-strikes-and-you're-out rule is in effect. I'll be watching out for Kumble's name so I can skip anything he is attached to.

The movie opens with a prologue in 1995. Chris (Ryan Reynolds), a fat kid with a retainer, and Jamie (Amy Smart), have been best friends since kindergarten. But the nature of Chris' feelings have changed over the years while Jamie's have not. He's head-over-heels in love with her, and plans to tell her at a post-graduation party. Unfortunately, his written declaration of love falls into the wrong hands and he ends up being humiliated in front of virtually the entire senior class.

Ten years later, Chris has slimmed down and shaped up. A high-powered mover-and-shaker at a Los Angeles-based record company, Chris is a cad with a reputation as a guy who can get any woman to sleep with him. When his boss orders him to babysit a potential future teen pop star, Samantha Jones (Anna Farris), he sees his plans for a happy Christmas go down the drain. But, when their L.A.-to-Paris flight has to make an emergency stop near Chris' hometown, he decides to visit some old friends. And that's when he comes face-to-face with Jamie, who now works as a bartender at a local watering hole. His false bravado is an instant turn-off for her. Then Samantha shows up and things get ugly.

The film's problems likely begin with Ryan Reynolds. Just Friends seems to have been designed as a vehicle for the inexplicably hot young actor, whose range is about on par with that of Rob Schneider. There's no acting going on her - just a lot of primping and pratfalling. Chris is insufferable, but he's not the only one. Aside from Amy Smart's Jamie, everyone with more than a handful of lines is unbearable. The best thing that could happen would be for a nuclear blast to wipe out the New Jersey town where the majority of Just Friends transpires.

The movie is developed as a black comedy - an approach that requires a deftness of approach that escapes Kumble. He pilfers liberally from other movies - There's Something about Mary, Meet the Parents, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (to name a few) - but the resulting casserole tastes like stale left-overs. Each of those movies had funny moments; this one is devoid of anything likely to make an adult laugh. Failed "jokes" are liberally interspersed with cringe-worthy moments.

In the end, we don't believe the romance or care about the characters. Chris is such a jerk that the eventual expectation – for us to sympathize with him - is unrealistic. A subplot about another ex-high school loser (Chris Klein) who has achieved success comes to the kind of abrupt end that can only be explained by a screenplay that doesn't have a clue what to do with the character or the setup. That's just one more instance of sloppiness in a movie that will be greeted with as much enthusiasm as a lump of coal in a Christmas stocking.

Just Friends (United States, 2005)

Director: Roger Kumble
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Amy Smart, Chris Klein, Anna Farris
Screenplay: Adam Davis
Cinematography: Anthony B. Richmond
Music: Jeff Cardoni, Machine Head
U.S. Distributor: New Line Cinema
Run Time: 1:34
U.S. Release Date: 2005-11-23
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1