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With: Ryan Reynolds, Amy Smart, Anna Faris, Chris Klein, Stephen Root, Julie Hagerty
Written by: Adam 'Tex' Davis
Directed by: Roger Kumble
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content including some dialogue
Running Time: 96
Date: 11/23/2005

Just Friends (2005)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Jest 'Friends'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

In his first film, Cruel Intentions (1999), Reese Witherspoon, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ryan Phillippe played out the surface story, a love triangle, but it was Selma Blair who stole the film with her performance as an exceedingly goofy, clumsy Manhattan debutante.

Kumble's second film The Sweetest Thing (2002) divided audiences even more sharply. Its defenders were few (this reviewer included); most considered it an outright disaster. While Cameron Diaz and Thomas Jane took the leading romantic storyline in another love triangle, Christina Applegate brightened the proceedings considerably with her wide-eyed hamming.

Now we have Just Friends, Kumble's third feature film. Once again, it's a romantic comedy and a love triangle, beginning in 1995 as Chris (Ryan Reynolds, wearing a quasi-insulting fat suit) and hottie Jamie (Amy Smart) prepare to graduate from high school. Chris has always loved Jamie, but has entered "the friend zone," seemingly for good. He attempts to tell her how he truly feels, everything goes wrong, and he disappears.

Ten years later, Chris has reinvented himself. Trim, successful and living in Los Angeles, he works in the music biz, hangs out with celebrities and beds a sexy new girlfriend each night. His boss (Stephen Root, Office Space) orders him to acquire the latest Jessica Simpson-type pop singer, a monstrous and insanely funny little tart named Samantha James (Anna Faris).

While en route to Paris for Christmas, their plane is forced down near New Jersey, and Chris finds himself back home for the first time in years, pop diva in tow. Bumping into a still-gorgeous Jamie, Chris decides to use his newfound skills to woo her, but can't decide if he should be a jerk, like the rest of her high school boyfriends, or play the sensitive card. None of his "rules" ("no day dates," etc.) seem to apply anymore.

Worse, Chris finds himself competing with another high school geek, newly converted into a sexy stud, Dusty (Chris Klein).

Of course, the movie's message is "be yourself," and, as written by first-timer Adam "Tex" Davis, everything eventually settles into its proper and predictable groove. Fortunately, Kumble and Davis understand that the film's strength is not in reaching the payoff, but in the ridiculous ride. In this way, "Just Friends" is as funny as The 40 Year-Old Virgin, but stays funnier longer.

The joy of Just Friends is watching these embittered, sidetracked cynics working their particular little brands of black magic.

Reynolds has recently returned from a sojourn as a caustic, arrogant Hollywood beefcake in Blade: Trinity and The Amityville Horror and is now back to comedy where he belongs. His gift is remaining slightly detached, but also disbelieving, of anything that happens, and he's especially effective when the movie gets too sweet.

Smart has never had much of a breakout role, but she's cute and has always been a game comic performer, especially here and in Rat Race (2001). And viewers going all the way back to Airplane! (1980) will enjoy Julie Hagerty in a similarly breathy role as Chris's airhead mom.

However, it's Faris who explodes onscreen in Just Friends. Faris takes her brain-dead Lost in Translation (2003) character and blows it up to parade-float size. She's needy, spoiled and manipulative, but just as easily manipulated by a hardcore cynic. She switches moods in a heartbeat, but always with a baby toe stuck in real behavior.

Kumble often lets her chatter on enthusiastically about her career and her ideas for inane songs (one particular gem is called "Forgiveness"). Faris cannily swings between expectations and keeps Samantha constantly fresh and surprising.

Say what you will about Kumble and his seemingly disposable films, but he's one of the few filmmakers working with a genuine appreciation for sexy women cut-ups, and the power of the supporting role (maybe he can give Sarah Silverman a role she deserves?). With this clever comic anchor, Just Friends is destined to be -- alongside his other films -- this fall's ultimate guilty pleasure.

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