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'No Strings Attached' Elevated By An Affable Ashton Kutcher And a Go-For-Broke Natalie Portman

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If No Strings Attached proves anything, it’s that Natalie Portman has a career in romantic comedy if this Oscar thing doesn’t work out (unlikely). Her scene stealing no strings attachedperformance is the highlight of Ivan Reitman’s predictable new comedy, which is a passable pre- Valentine’s Day genre offering.

The film opens with a series of flashbacks. The first sequence features two teenagers, Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma (Natalie Portman) sitting on a ledge, discussing relationships.

Adam is instantly revealed as a sensitive hopeless romantic, while Emma is a much colder, matter of fact individual, insisting relationships don’t last. That scene is quickly followed by a college frat party, several years later, when the two meet again. The characters are even further rooted in their personalities; Adam exhibiting an air of flutter when he sees Emma, and her reaction not nearly as inviting.

Then the film flashes to present day, post-college, where the two manage to bump into each other yet again. This encounter is not as brief, however. After discovering that his ex-girlfriend is having sex with his famous actor father Alvin (Kevin Kline), Adam embarks on a drunken bender that somehow lands him on Emma’s couch. The two spontaneously have sex, and this begins a curious situation. She presents that they use each physically, just for pleasure. There’s no attachment involved, and the word relationship is never to be uttered.

Emma is clearly gung ho about the setup, as it suits her guarded exterior and lack of interest in commitment or love. Adam is clearly intrigued at first, meeting her in hallways, cars, bathrooms, and other places for random sexual encounters. However, there’s no doubt that his soft side will eventually come into play and want more. Thus, when he finally breaks down and tells Emma deep rooted feelings are developing, things get complicated.

The best thing one can say about No Strings Attached is that it has an uninhibited performance by Natalie Portman. Portman clearly has a ball here, counteracting her sweet dainty appearance with an aggressive, ballsy attitude. The result is absolutely riotous to watch, elevating a stock script to a whole new level, and making the experience consistently entertaining. She has terrific chemistry with Kutcher, who continually gets a bad rap in general. He won’t be receiving any Academy Award nominations in the foreseeable future, but exudes a whole lot of heart in his performance as Adam. The supporting cast is uniformly strong, although one dimensional.

Director Ivan Reitman exhibits a strong sturdy grip on the material for most of the running time. The entire first half is pitch perfect, and often hilarious, another unexpected positive here. Still, he loses control and the movie deflates as it enters the third act, adhering to the excruciatingly predictable romantic comedy clichés that have all but sunk the genre. The movie also runs about half an hour too long.

I suspect that critics will be fairly divided over No Strings Attached across the board. Many will trash the film for being another standard, predictable romantic comedy, and others will appreciate it for the sharp dialogue and the above average performances. I fall right on the line between the two arguments, but would lean towards the recommendation overall. No Strings Attached isn’t a great movie, but it’s warm, cute funny entertainment that’s good enough to temporarily melt away the winter blues.

Contact Jim Teti at jteti@philly2philly.com