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    Movie Review: Friends With Benefits Is the First Decent Rom-Com in, Like, Forever

    Justin Timberlake, Friends with Benefits Sony Pictures

    Review in a Hurry: Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis prove that insanely attractive twentysomethings can have it all! Including each other! And a pretty funny movie! Obvious? Maybe, but just a few months ago the same premise was an epic fail for Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher.

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    The Bigger Picture: Funny dialogue helps. A strong supporting cast, including an inspired Woody Harrelson, helps too. J.T. and Kunis have great chemistry—both between the sheets and out of them—playing too smart for their own good types who spend their time deconstructing romantic comedies. But can the script stay formula-free?

    Nah, but that's OK.

    New York headhunter Jamie (Kunis) and L.A. dotcom wunderkind Dylan (Timberlake) both just got dumped. Their soon-to-be exes (nice cameos by Andy Samberg and Emma Stone) have similar complaints: too focused on their careers and too dysfunctional to function. Lucky for Jamie and Dylan they soon meet each other. (She lands him a swanky job at GQ magazine.)

    Millennial media savvy Dylan and cute as heck Jamie know the rules of romantic comedies. They decide they'll do everything they can to avoid any future relationship messiness. They still need a partner for purely physical reasons so why not each other? The sexy is back.

    And wow, is it ever. There's plenty of um, benefits in the film.

     

    Easy A director Will Gluck, working with a script he cowrote with Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, spends a lot of time examining why so many rom-coms fail. One scene has Jamie and Dylan watching a fake film starring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones. Jamie goes off on Goofy Music Syndrome, manipulating audiences to feel happy, sad, etc. At times, it seems one "rule" away from Kevin Williams' Scream territory, but since Kunis and Timberlake are such fun to hang with, we hardly care.

    Woody Harrelson pops up as an openly gay sports editor at GQ. Shaun White shows up as a crazy rage-filled version of his persona. The results are some of the film's best scenes.

    Of the too sexy pairing, Kunis is the more experienced actor. As a result her character is burdened with a bit more of the dramatic stuff. Have no fear though, even in Black Swan, Kunis knew how to keep things loose and entertaining.

    Timberlake might be more a performer than an actor but no one would deny the guy's pretty fearless. On SNL he's does almost anything for a laugh and thankfully, the script offers lot of opportunities to use his boundless energy. Like a rather timely joke about Dylan's lightning bolt tattoo, paying tribute to a certain boy wizard. Nerdy J.T.? Sure! Later he cuts loose with a dance number showing off his mad skills for Kris Kross's "Jump." Awesome.

    The 180—a Second Opinion: Subplots with Dylan's ailing father (Richard Jenkins) and Jamie's hippie mom (Patricia Clarkson) are a everybody's time, and talents. Worse, it feels like the exact kind of trite storytelling Jamie and Dylan would pick apart.

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    (Originally published July 21, 2011, at 5:23 p.m. PT)

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