Ivan Reitman’s royal fuck-up No Strings Attached may be the most perplexing film released thus far this year. The reason being not for subject matter or direction, instead it remains puzzling for its purpose — or lack thereof. Suitably released during the black-hole month of January, this misguided production offers nothing but a smack in the face to all those involved — most of the pain being split amongst its performers (more specifically, Natalie Portman) and the poor saps who spent the money and effort to lay eyes on such a sloppy misfire. But come to think about it, No Strings Attached isn’t just a “misfire” — nay — it is a calculated act of terrorism. Only that can explain Elizabeth Meriwether’s bland and uninspired writing. Only that can account for Reitman’s disconnected and callous direction. Only that make light of Portman’s embroilment (thus hurting her chances of winning an Oscar for her fabulous work in Black Swan). And only that can begin to decipher Ashton Kutcher being cast as yet another lead. Aye, No Strings Attached must have been an attack on good-taste.
The first act consists of nothing but simulated sex scenes and some initial build-up that shows the beginning of Emma (Portman) and Adam’s (Kutcher) screwed-up relationship: Meeting at a camp as teenagers, a reuniting at a drunken frat party (as if there is another kind) — a run-in that leads to an inevitable separation — and finally a stumbling upon each other in New York, which heats up their escapades. After a long night of drinking, Adam, tumbles into the apartment that Emma shares with her co-workers, Shira (Mindy Kaling), an insecure, self-proclaimed “slut,” and Vanessa (Ophelia Lovibond), who Eli (Jake M. Johnson), Adam’s awkward cohort, has a romantic outing with later in the film. When he awakens naked, Adam finds himself transfixed by Emma — this, of course, leads to great sex and, in turn, a start to their career as “friends with benefits.” The only problem? They can’t keep their hands off each-other and Emma is gravely afraid of relationships. Enter conflict.
At this point of the review, it should be pretty easy to infer that No Strings Attached is predictable, following the conventions of standard romantic comedies in a sub-standard way. Meriwether’s first foray into writing for the big-screen falls flat on its face. Her script is full of contrived dialogue, and too many superfluous comedic elements — all of them being way raunchier than need be: At times it seems that Meriwether has a certain admiration of the word “penis” and several of its synonyms, as the film’s characters spout the word more than most seasoned porn-stars. In addition, many of the side characters could have easily been cut without influencing the plot at all — this includes Ludacris’ character Wallace, who has absolutely no distinction, and Alvin (Kevin Kline), Adam’s big-shot actor of a dad, who has moderately more spunk but is much more annoying.
Portman, however, is the biggest disappointment. Once an actress of few merits, but now an over-night sensation, she has to tread lightly. Roles like these destroy reputations. Already headlining in another stinker, The Other Woman, which releases soon, Portman and her agent need to step up — especially if she brings home the gold at the upcoming Academy Awards (very likely). But it is in part, Kutcher’s noxious presence that brings down Portman. The former model has never had a hit — never — so it’s insulting just to see his mug next to her talent. The result is an on-screen romance that lacks any sort of chemistry.
Of course, there are always those who’d see anything just to catch a glimpse of skin — our very own “General Disdain” being one example — but No Strings Attached fails even on that front. For a film about casual sex, Reitman’s latest is surprisingly kosher in terms of nudity, offering nothing but a shot of Kutcher’s derrià¨re. Is the production some sort of subliminal campaign for the Amish? No, it can’t be: There are way too many taped-on reminders that you should always use protection.