Just Friends review by Mike Long

I am a huge horror movie fan and thus, I've seen some very, very disturbing things. I've found that the scariest images and ideas are usually things which feel very true and resonate from real life. But, one of the most chilling experiences that I've ever had watching a movie came not from a horror film, but from a comedy. And that was the incredibly realistic "let's just be friends" vibe of Just Friends. The movie is incredibly hit-or-miss, but the central idea is spine chilling.

Just Friends opens in 1995, where we meet Chris (Ryan Reynolds), an overweight, slightly geeky teen who is in love with his best friend, Jamie (Amy Smart). However, as far as Jamie is concerned, Chris and Jamie are just friends. On graduation night, Chris decides that he's going to confess his love to Jamie, but he's interrupted by class weirdo Dusty Dinkelman (Chris Klein) and then he's humiliated in front of a group of classmates. Devastated, Chris runs into the night.

The story then jumps ahead 10 years. Chris now lives in L.A., where he's a trim and buff music executive. He's been assigned to groom Samantha James (Anna Faris), a spoiled, slightly insane young woman who is convinced that she should be a musician. (The character appears to have been influenced by Paris Hilton.) While flying with Samantha to Paris, their plane experiences problems, and they are forced to land in New Jersey, not far from Chris' hometown. Chris takes Samantha home, where they meet his Mom (Julie Hagerty) and his brother, Mike (Chris Marquette). While visiting a local bar, Chris runs into Jamie. He asks her out, with the intention of showing her what she could have had. Instead, the old feelings return and Chris decides that he will try to woo Jamie. However, he runs into several obstacles, namely Samantha and a grown-up Dusty Dinkelman. Battling cruel fate and the elements, Chris forges ahead, determined to show Jamie that he can be more than just a friend.

Despite its horrifying premise, Just Friends never rises above being a mediocre movie. This is due mostly to the film's wildly uneven tone. The film mixes very broad physical comedy with some slightly subtler dialogue, while adding some throw-away lines. The movie has some very funny moments, but then there will be a ten-minute stretch where a lot of things happen, but few of them are actually humorous. In short, the movie simply tries too hard. Just Friends wants to be a comedy in the vein of There's Something About Mary, where things get more and more out of control as the film progresses. Yet, this movie never has the strong sense of character which that movie possessed, and it's not just the story which seems out of control. (In Just Friends defense, the movie does avoid wandering into material which is raunchy just for laughs.)

But, like an old car which runs only half of the time, the funny parts in Just Friends do work quite well. I don't know why fat suits are funny, because genuinely fat people aren't always funny and being fat certainly isn't funny, but there's something about an actor in a fat suit which is funny. The opening scenes in which Reynolds plays the younger, fat version of Chris are humorous. Director Roger Kumble (Cruel Intentions, Cruel Intentions 2) seems to care more for using slapstick in the film, but it's the quick, rapid-fire dialogue (typically between Reynolds and another actor) which give the film its spark. Looking back on the film, I remember the pratfalls and explosions, but it's the clever lines which make me smile.

And although I'm thoroughly convinced that Ryan Reynolds is possessed by Chevy Chase, he is good here and he does a fine job of playing a man who is used to having his way become slowly unglued. Reynolds clicks well with Amy Smart who brings enough sex appeal and warmth to the character of Jamie to make us understand why men would fight over her. It's always nice to see Anna Faris cut loose, but her take on Samantha is simply too wacky and the character become bothersome quite quickly. Some of the brightest moments in the film come from Julie Hagerty (it's great to see her working again) and Chris Marquette. The former is incredibly flighty while the latter is obnoxious and the way in which they irritate Reynolds' character is truly hysterical.

Just Friends is a touch nut to crack. It takes an idea which will be understood (painfully understood) by many audience members and then runs amok with it. The movie can't decide if it wants to be a humorous take on relationships, or a zany farce and this dichotomy ultimately hurts the film. Those of you who aren't turned off by Ryan Reynolds mugging will find something to like about this movie, but I must say that Just Friends should be just a rental.

Just Friends kisses DVD on the cheek courtesy of New Line Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a trace of grain and no defects from the source material. This is especially notable, as much of the film takes place in a snowy environment where grain would certainly show. The colors look very good, most notably the reds and greens. The picture looks slightly dark during some of the interior scenes, but this is minor. The framing appears to be accurate and the transfer shows no significant artifacting problems. The disc carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue with no hissing or distortion. The stereo effects are good, and there are some very nice touches of surround sound. During one particular scene involving Christmas decorations, the audio displays very nice use of subwoofer effects. Overall, a competent audio and video transfer.

The Just Friends DVD contains several extras. We start with an Audio Commentary featuring director Roger Kumble, writer Adam "Tex" Davis, producer Chris Bender, co-producer Jake Weiner, and executive producers Richard Brener & Cale Boyter. This is a boisterous commentary track as the speakers all talk incessantly, talking over one another and trying to one-up each other. The jokes fly constantly, but they do manage to talk about the production of the film and give details about the locations and the actors. The DVD contains 6 "Deleted/Alternate Scenes" with optional commentary from Davis, Kumble, and Brenner. The scenes have a "Play All" option. There are some very funny moments in these scenes, plus a great cameo. At least two moments from these scenes are funnier than moments from the final cut of the movie. There are also additional "Behind-the-Scenes" featurettes for two of the scenes. Included in the extras are 9 "Behind-the-Scenes" featurettes. In "Tales from the Friend Zone" (4 minutes), cast & crew recount their own "just friends" experiences. Screenwriter Davis and the producers discuss the creation of the film in "Developing Just Friends" (8 minutes), where they also disclose the real-life influences on the story. The cast describes Kumble's style of shooting multiple takes of a scene in rapid succession in "A Director's Guide to Comedy" (8 minutes), which include alternates takes of some scenes from the film. We get to witness Ryan Reynolds donning his fat makeup in "The Transformation" (5 minutes). One of the most awkward scenes in the film is examined in "The Body Shake" (4 minutes). "It's Friggin' Cold" (5 minutes) looks at the location shooting in Canada, where it was often 30 below 0. We get to see Davis preparing to be an extra in the film in "A Writer's Journey" (9 minutes). The stunts and pyrotechnics of the film are profiled in "A Disaster in the Making" (8 minutes). And finally, in "The Reshoots" (2 minutes), Kumble describes how the ending of the film was changed. These featurettes contain some interesting material, but one has to wonder why they all weren't edited together. The "'Jamie Smiles' Music Video" is certainly worth watching, as it features the cast doing some very silly things. The extras are rounded out by the film's "Theatrical Trailer" and a "Gag Reel" (3 minutes).

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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