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Film Reviews: Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Reynolds Rapt

Thanks to its acting, Just Friends should have more fans than just us.

By KRISTIAN LIN

Ryan Reynolds is so funny. The 29-year-old Canadian actor has a face that’s pleasing to look at without being too memorable and a smirking frat-boy persona that’s tempered by a good dose of ironic self-awareness. He reminds you of Bruce Willis during his Moonlighting days, except that he’s even more nimble. He can do a few hundred different comic reactions to life’s absurdities or other people’s actions, and he keeps coming up with new ones even when he’s acting in total crap. And man, has he done a lot of that — his appearances in good movies like Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle have been vastly outnumbered by stinkers: National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, Blade: Trinity, The Amityville Horror, and Waiting ..., not to mention that dire tv sitcom Two Guys, a Girl, and a Pizza Place. He’s as creative a comedian as Jim Carrey or Will Ferrell, but with a résumé like that, it’s no wonder that he’s better known as Alanis Morissette’s fiancé than as an actor.

That may change with Just Friends, which is no cinematic masterpiece but is several cuts above the movies he usually stars in. He plays Chris, who starts out in 1995 as a fat high-school kid from New Jersey who’s carrying a torch for his best friend Jamie (Amy Smart). When the jocks at school humiliate him over this, he runs off to L.A., sheds his excess weight, and becomes a womanizing music-industry bastard. Ten years later, when his job leaves him stranded near his hometown for Christmas, he reconnects with Jamie and tries to win her over with his new self.

Jamie is a cipher, and most of the movie’s sagging middle section concerns Chris’ efforts to cozy up to her without winding up in “the Friend Zone” (a phrase the filmmakers repeat as obsessively as if they’d invented the concept). Director Roger Kumble has a leaden touch for slapstick, which leads to sequences that are predictable down to the half-second, like the one where Chris gets his ass kicked at a peewee hockey game or where he accidentally destroys Jamie’s dad’s Christmas light display.

These bad stretches are easily ignored, though. The star receives some sterling comic support, especially from Anna Faris (who is in many ways the female version of Ryan Reynolds) as a hottie pop music starlet whose lack of musical talent is compensated for by raging psychosis; check the scene where she’s bombed on Vicodin. She does a lot to goose the proceedings, but Reynolds owns the show completely, delivering some lines with a caress and others with a kick. Watch the closing credits, which feature the fat Chris lip-syncing to All-4-One’s “I Swear,” and you’ll see an actor working tirelessly to wring every laugh out of his material and having fun doing it. Just Friends is the first movie that’s worth seeing solely for Ryan Reynolds’ performance, and let’s hope it isn’t the last.


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