07 December 2005

Just Friends

1995. New Jersey. Chris Bander (Ryan Reynolds in a pretty convincing fat suit), flubby, braced-faced, male cheerleader is best friends with Jamie Palamino, (Amy Smart) the hottest, and thus, most popular cheerleader in the senior class. On the eve of their high school graduation, Chris decides to confess his undying (slightly obsessive) love for his best bud. Unfortunately, some booze, an even creepier lovelorn dork, obnoxious football meat-head, and a poorly thought-out plan turn Chris’ sweet admission of love into a COMPLETE NIGHTMARE, ending with Jamie’s slurred proclamation, “Chris, I love you [SUPSENSFUL PAUSE] like a brother.” [Awww. So unnecessary!] Scarred by this horrendous ordeal, Chris is driven to leave New Jersey as fast as his Huffy bike can take him, and do everything in his power to become a good looking jack ass.

Fast forward ten years and Chris Bander is now a chiseled, womanizing West Coast media exec -- the antithesis of sweet, flubby Chris Bander, duh. Much to his reluctance. Chris is assigned to cater to the whims of a potential client, It Girl, Samantha James (Anna Faris). Unfortunately, due to a nearly catastrophic microwave accident aboard their plane [to which Samantha asks, "Am I being punk'd?"] Chris & Samantha find themselves stuck in Chris’ worst nightmare, New Jersey in the winter. While stuck in Jersey, Chris seizes the opportunity to show the town what he’s become and win over his old high school crush. In the end, Chris learns the age old lesson that it’s not what’s on the outside that matters – I mean, it helps – a lot -- but it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

Okay, so the story sounds pretty trite, but don’t be dismayed. Just Friends is definitely enjoyable. I always found Ryan Reynolds (Two Guys & a Girl and some other mook-oriented films) to be absolutely fabulous, so it was always such a pity when he chose to star in such crappy films. Fortunately for me, this time, Reynolds picked a crappy movie that’s actually quite awesome.

As I mentioned, the story’s pretty crappy, but who needs a good story, when you have a stellar cast and some gut-busting physical gags. Ryan Reynolds brings his usual artillery: sarcasm, good looks, exaggerated facial expressions, and solid comedic timing, yet, exhibits a little more nuance on screen, as a hottie with a fat guy complex. Anna Faris is simply hilarious as the part Paris Hilton, part Ashlee Simpson, part feline pop “artist”, Samantha James. One could not get more laughs from some silly cat noises than Anna Faris. Chris Marquette is too funny as Chris’ horny younger brother, assigned to occupy Samantha James while Chris tries to woo his old crush. As far as horn dog little brothers go, I think Chris Marquette/Mike Bander is top tier. Julie Haggerty is as sweet and spacey as ever as Chris’ mom [Check out the hilarious scene where Chris’ mom tries to use the phone as Chris is trying to drop some game on Jamie]. Amy Smart is quite tolerable as golden girl, Jamie Palamino. I have to say that I never really understood Amy Smart’s allure as the token blonde that guys go ga-ga over [Varsity Blues, Road Trip, Butterfly Efflect], but she’s quite charming in Just Friends. She’s definitely convincing as the kind of pretty/ kind of ordinary looking girl that still lives with her parents and works at the neighborhood pub, but yearns for so much more. I just don’t understand why she kept wearing mini skirts in the middle of winter.

Slapstick is rather hard to convey through text, but let me just say that brotherly brawls have never been so hilarious. Ryan Reynolds may be a pretty boy and Anna Faris, a pretty girl, but they’re definitely not afraid to get hit by a taser, knock out little kids, or eat a whole tube of toothpaste in the name of comedy.

Perhaps one of the most gratifying moments of the film (besides Chris' performance of "I Swear.") is when Chris’ old high school buddy comments on his new veneers. Reynold’s fake smile was bugging the heck out of me until I realized it was part of Chris Bander’s extreme makeover. [Alanis couldn’t possibly marry a man with veneers! Could she?] Now, if only some one could explain Hillary Duff’s horse teeth.

My recommendation: The film is definitely worth a rental. As for movie ticket prices, that’s a little more iffy. I’m certainly satisfied, but again, my standards are little lower than average. If anything, see it in theaters and help support the Ryan Reynolds Does Not Have to do Van Wilder II Fund. In fact, I think I just might check out the other Anna Faris-Ryan Reynolds comedy, Waiting.