Hippo Manchester
December 1, 2005

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Film: Just Friends (PG-13)
by Amy Diaz

Ryan Reynolds dons a fat suit and some double-chin latex in hopes of moving past “that guy from Van Wilder” status in Just Friends.

Hang in there, Ryan Reynolds. You’re just an Old School away from making Will Ferrell status — a position that will give you enough financial stability to figure out what kind of acting you really want to do. Just Friends, unfortunately, is still just your Night at the Roxbury.

It’s 1995 and Chris (Reynolds) is a chubby high school senior with unfortunate hair and a retainer. He loves, with the flaming passion of a boy band song, Jamie (Amy Smart), a blonde popular girl who has enough of a heart of gold to consider Chris one of her very best friends. And it is, of course, that last word that slices like a dagger through Chris’s heart. He has no interest in being her “friend” and angrily, tearfully, pedals his bike away from her graduation party when he realizes that friend is all he’s ever going to get. I’ll show you all, he vows.

Ten years later and Show Them he has. Chris is a music industry promoter who has the contacts to hang out with the hippest of the hip and the looks to score himself any vapid Barbie he desires. Except, though a brittle love ’em and leave ’em type, Chris still desires Jamie. So, on a Christmas Eve trip to Paris with high-maintenance pop star Samantha (Anna Faris), when the plane breaks down in Chris’s hometown in New Jersey, he’s secretly a bit excited. He heads to a local watering hole where, wouldn’t you know it, Jamie is tending bar. With the tables a bit turned, Chris hopes to finally win not just Jamie’s friendship but her lust (or love, whatever, but you know he’d settle for hot monkey sex). He delays the continuation of the trip to attempt to woo Jaime, a move that requires him to push the crazed Samantha into the care of his little brother (the very young John Cusack-ish Chris Marquette).

But wait, there’s more! Also a longtime admirer of Jamie is Dusty (Chris Klein). In high school, Dusty was a long-haired pimple-faced wallflower. Now, he’s an EMT who’s a bit of a player. After Chris’s wooing ends in injury (turns out wooing a girl he sincerely likes is not a skill new-and-improved Chris has mastered), Dusty shows up, all manly shoulders and sensitive side. Can Chris surmount his own insecurity and ego long enough to out-good-guy this new competitor?

What will stick with me more than anything else about Just Friends is the fact that 1995 is now 10 years ago and a Backstreet Boys song can conjure up nostalgia. Damn, when they start playing Pearl Jam on the classic rock stations, I’m signing up for a facelift.

Beyond sudden realizations about my own mortality, very little in Just Friends stuck. This bizarre hybrid of slapstick and romance felt too Frankensteined, too chicken’s-head-on-cow’s-body. And the introduction of the third act rival for Jamie’s attentions was a very what-are-we-gonna-do-now approach to the plot, which seemed to use up all its jokes faster than it planned.

Like the platonic relationships it doesn’t come close to mining for all their comic possibilities, Just Friends is sparkless.