The year is 1995. All-4-One are atop the pop charts and Chris Brander (Ryan Reynolds) is finally graduating from high school. After five long years of being tortured by the school jocks for being the fattest kid in school, he is finally ready to get out into the real world. Chris doesn't have a lot of friends, but he is close to Jamie Palamino (Amy Smart), the most popular girl in school, who despite being the head cheerleader is still single. Chris has admired Jamie from afar for some time and on the night of their graduation he decides to make his move. When it doesn't go as planned, he vows to quit Jamie and New Jersey for good. Ten years later, he's on the top of his game as a successful music manager for KC (Stephen Root) and a self-proclaimed ladies man. He hasn't been home in ten years and has no plans to do so. His latest work task is Samantha Jane (Anna Faris), a slutty pin-up girl he once dated who is now trying to make it in the music industry. Somehow, she convinces him to join her in Paris for the holidays, but when a freak accident occurs he finds himself grounded in New Jersey for the night. Desperate to relieve some stress, Samantha and Chris head to the local dive where he runs into some of his high school tormentors and Jamie, who's still living in the small town serving drinks at the local bar. It becomes clear to him that this is his chance to do to her the damage she did to him, and he begins to make up excuses why he and his trouble-causing artist friend need to rest in New Jersey. Enlisting the help of his younger brother Mike (Christopher Marquette), who is all-too-happy to watch Samantha, Chris begins to go on a series of dates with Jamie trying different approaches to win her affections. It seems to be working until he finds competition in musician-turned-paramedic Dusty (Chris Klien), who also had a crush on Jamie.
Just Friends is a movie that I didn't really expect much from going into the screening. The trailer wasn't great and Chris Klein had a co-starring role. On the plus side, the film was being directed by Roger Kumble, who had made the excellent teen-friendly Cruel Intentions and had Ryan Reynolds, who may not always turn out the best performance but has a very likeable on-screen presence where you can't help but root for the guy. That, combined with the fact that Amy Smart is criminally under-used in Hollywood and Anna Faris as an over-the-top Paris Hilton/Lindsay Lohan-type pop diva made the trip to the cinema in the pouring rain seem more appealing. Too bad the film failed to surpass my even minimal expectations.
So where does the film go wrong? That's a good question, because the movie is never truly painful to watch, but the scenes that should be funny â€" including a brutal and vicious hockey accident and a scene involving an exploding microwave â€" just felt flat in my mind. Writer Adam Tex Davis has written a number of funny scenarios, but for whatever reason, the execution just isn't very good. Although I'm thankful that, given the PG-13 rating of the film, he's limited himself more to physical and verbal gags and not the dreaded bathroom humour that so often would plague a feature film in this genre. There are a couple jokes that work, and the material between Anna Faris and Christopher Marquette is somewhat funny, but as a whole the film just didn't come across for me. Another big problem that faces the movie is pacing and that each scene seems more self-contained rather than a part of the overall story. Characters and events contradict themselves, and although the film runs a scant 90 minutes, it does begin to feel a little on the long side around the 70-minute mark. All that, plus Davis' script tends to repeat a number of jokes, including the use of a taser, which might be moderately funny the first time but became pretty tiresome by the third or fourth.
What saves Just Friends from being a total unmitigated disaster is the performances from leads Ryan Reynolds and Amy Smart, as well as supporting turns from Anna Farris and Christopher Marquette. Let's start out with Ryan Reynolds, who is tremendously likeable, even as a bit of a sleazebag. I liked him in Van Wilder, thought he stole the show on Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place, and was one of the best parts of the action-packed Blade Trinity. Here, he plays a guy in a fat suit quite well, and one can tell this is pretty much his show to carry. His comedic timing is spot-on as always, though the material isn't always the best. He does what he can with it and elevates it to a watchable level. Amy Smart was excellent in The Butterfly Effect and above average in Varsity Blues. Here, she doesn't have much to do but sit around and act like the girl-next-door type. She's a worthy catch for Reynolds' and Klien's characters to fight over, but certainly not the most realized character in the film. Two of the best performances in the film come from the two involved in the sub-story. Anna Faris, best known as Cindy from the Scary Movie films, plays a deliciously over-the-top pop diva wannabe. Faris played a similar character in Lost in Translation, but here she takes it to the next level. At times it was annoying to watch, but still, there is no questioning her comedic chops. Christopher Marquette, on the other hand, is a little-known actor who really ups his comedic ability here. He manages to steal every scene he's in from Reynolds and Faris, which is no small task.
Just Friends isn't a really terrible movie. It's just that it's not a really funny movie, either. It provides a few good laughs, but for the most part is just a simple story with some decent if not overly good performances in a story that's been done before, and done much better at that. Director Roger Kumble and screenwriter Adam Tex Davis have fashioned a fairly light piece of filmmaking that will deliver the goods for the teenage audience, but will have most other moviegoers forgetting the film right after they leave the theater. On the plus side, it's fairly inoffensive and clean, which is more than I can say about 90% of the films in this sort of sub-genre. Sadly, it's the sort of movie that would work just as well on a cold and rainy Saturday night at home with a big bowl of popcorn as it does in the theater. The film does have its moments, but they are too few and far between to merit more than a light recommendation. Just Friends could be a lot worse but it could also be a lot better.
Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.