Friday, January 28, 2011

649 - No Strings Attached review

I really can’t use traditional descriptors like “sweet” or “mean” to describe “No Strings Attached,” because there are no humans in it. Granted, there are human actors captured on film, and they mimic human behavior, but it’s all too forced, consistently lacking the sort of logical thoughts or predictable responses to stimuli that have come to characterize us as a species. The script doesn’t feature characters, just instructions for the actors.

Take Adam, the male protagonist, played here by Ashton Kutcher, who really does treat the script like an instruction manual. Adam is one of those cinematic creations, a line-delivery vehicle that exists so that his situations might be packaged and sold to the moviegoing public. Working a production gig on an insufferable musical TV series suspiciously like “Glee,” he bounces from one romantic entanglement to the next as if stuck in the Movie Dating pinball machine. “I did some writing in college” he says at one point while pitching his script to friends, though if he’s witty or intelligent, we’re kept in the dark about it.

I can say the same for Emma, our leading lady, played by Natalie Portman. It’s an odd film to follow her potentially Oscar-grabbing turn in the aggressively intense “Black Swan,” and we’re reminded for various reasons that she’s incapable of playing an adult. She didn’t do so in “Black Swan,” (psychotic ballerina), nor in “Garden State,” (quirky love interest) or in the “Star Wars” prequels, (cartoon monarch) and certainly not in “The Professional.” (12-year-old girl) Here, she’s a Movie Doctor, which means that though she hangs out in a hospital and has a title attached to her name, Emma mostly just talks about her sex life (and then enthusiastically lives it) instead of actually working.

Portman’s unable to speak without smiling and toning the lines as if they were all jokes, mugging for the audience as if trying to sell even the skeptics on her cuteness. It’s not her cuteness we don’t buy, it’s her ability to play a real person not in the throes of some strange obsession or misbehavior.

Directed by Ivan Reitman, once behind hits such as “Ghostbusters,” “No Strings Attached” adds itself to the ranks of contemporary films that have nothing going for them other than competent photography. Apparently it’s not particularly difficult to find a good cinematographer in the industry, because most major studio films look fine, but decent directors and screenwriters are in critically short supply. Take this film’s idea of comedy, which subscribes to the recently trend and disastrously erroneous idea that true comedy should consist of characters publicly discussing their sex lives in the most graphic and awkward and public ways. I’ll give another of my free filmmaking tips: public discussions of sex life and preference can be funny, though they need a willing audience, or at least a captive one powerless to do anything about it.

The film’s premise, or perhaps I should say marketing hook, sees Adam and Emma as platonic friends who agree to have casual intercourse without the requisite penalties of such an act, like jealously or commitment. Certainly, one could make an entertaining, thoughtful film out of this subject, and an excellent episode of “Seinfeld” covered the subject matter rather well. This, on the other hand, could have been written by a robot, which could help explain why there are no humans in it. Since nothing in this film demonstrates an interest in people, I can’t express surprise that it ignores our cultural and social concerns.

1 out of 5

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