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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Just Friends

After stuffing myself like a Butterball on this Thanksgiving afternoon I waddled out to the Essex Outlet Cinemas to check out Ryan Reynolds' latest comedy Just Friends. For some reason I expected the Cinemas to be virtually empty, with families bonding over tryptophan-induced mellowness while watching football games and parades on tv. Instead, the Essex Outlet Cinemas were jumping with business, an accolade to their wonderful service and staff who have become so much more than Just Friends to the regulars like myself.

After realizing that Ryan would not be playing the big screen version of Chandler Bing or even Joey Tribiani I consoled myself and decided that Just Friends would have to stand on its' own, sans even a cameo from Monica Geller or Phoebe "Smelly Cat" Buffet. Instead, I discovered it is a movie about a fat guy. A fat guy! How cruel to put out a movie about obesity right at Thanksgiving. I would have gotten up and left but my extra-large thighs were stuck to the sides of the seat, and I was afraid to shimmy too hard for fear I'd drop my large popcorn with extra butter topping and the cheesy stuff I'm always telling you about. But, as always, I digress.

I will warn you now, Ladies, Ryan, best known for his remarkable performance as 'The-Man-You'd-Most-Want-To-Be-Shotgunned-To-Death-By-In-Only-His-Pajama- Bottoms' after his mostly nude starring role in this summer's The Amityville Horror remake remains sadly, totally, completely and unequivocally clothed throughout Just Friends. What a waste.

So Just Friends is the story of fat but lovable Chris Brander (Reynolds, naturally, in and out of the most realistic 'overweight' make-up job I've ever seen in a movie). In high school poor Chris was hopelessly in love with beautiful cheerleader Jamie (played adequately by Amy Smart, with much less strenuous to do here than in last year's The Butterfly Effect) but when she rejects his feelings in front of all the graduating class, telling him she loves him "like a brother" he flees New Jersey and is not seen nor heard from again for the next ten years. During that time, Chris has lost at least one hundred and fifty pounds, worked himself into an astoundly fit body, and has himself an astoundly great job as a highly paid executive for a music company. He has also become a terrible cynic when it comes to women and, as he advises an associate, is always aggressive to ensure that a woman can not use the "Friend Zone" on him, that cruel place he had been relegated to back in high school, a place that guarantees that a man will never get laid and will instead become such a good friend to the woman of his dreams that he will "end up sharing her menstrual cycle." As he describes it later, “The ‘Friend Zone’ is like the penalty box of dating, only you can never get out. Once a girl decides you’re her ‘friend,’ it’s game over. You’ve become a complete nonsexual entity in her eyes, like her brother, or a lamp.” That just about sums it up.

Unfortunately for Chris, one woman who doesn't consider him Just Friends, is Samantha James (hilariously over-the-top Anna Faris), as a psychotic rock star with the IQ of an end table. Chris' boss is determined to get Samantha for their record label, and since Chris had at one time (regrettably) spent the night with her he is assigned the task of luring her to sign the contract. Samantha has other plans for Chris, first of which is "eating his skin off", a suggestion he is not too keen on. Instead she insists they fly on her private jet to Paris, but Samantha manages to set fire to the plane (don't ask), causing an emergency landing near Chris' hometown back in Jersey.

Stuck there, Chris takes Samantha to his mother's house where younger brother Mike, (Chris Marquette, much less sullen than he was on Joan of Arcadia), goes beserk. Samantha is his *ahem* self-pleasuring fantasy, and he is determined to turn that fantasy into a reality, while engaging his brother in a series of brotherly bouts, slapping, punching, poking, pushing and pounding each other in ways that would make the Three Stooges proud.
Need we tell you it is only a matter of time before Chris runs into old flame Jamie, now a bartender at a local dive. Sparks fly for him again, but he also feels he is right back in high school, as nerdy and tongue-tied as ever. This time, however, he is not alone in his desire to woo Jamie. He faces competition from another lovestruck victim, his formerly pimple-faced, stuttering classmate Dusty Dinkleman (Chris Klein), now a suave Emergency Medical Technician, who plays guitar flawlessly, volunteers for charity, and seems just a halo short of sainthood.

What follows is a series of hilarious gags that may or may not appeal to many adult moviegoers, but they are generally funny over-all and are aimed at the teen crowd anyway. Between the one-upsmanship Chris and Dusty exhibit to improve their chances with Jamie and Mike's attempts to entertain Samantha while distracting her from noticing that Chris is nowhere in sight there is a solid hour of eye-rolling silliness packed in the middle of this tale.

I'd be surprised if Ryan Reynolds is on speaking terms with Anna Faris about now though. Just Friends is supposed to be "his" movie, but Anna clearly steals it from him with her crazed parody of an Ashley Simpson type singer. Her Samantha James is the breakout performance here as she manages to scare you and make you laugh at the same time ~ no small feat.

Just Friends is not going to tax any brain cells, but if you are looking for a good date movie, one where you can miss a few lines while giving your main squeeze a nuzzle this is a good choice. Where else are you going to find true love, a burning Santa Claus, a killer hockey game, retainer jokes, tasering, and dating tips from the formerly obese all in one film? I've seen everything currently playing at the Essex Outlet Cinemas this week, and I am pretty sure Just Friends is the only movie in current release that fits this description.

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