We all know Jim Carrey had to make some sacrifices in order to improve as an actor. To reach the status of award worthy thespian, he pretty much had to pack up all of his rubbery, over the top style humor and put it off to the side. It appears Carrey may have done much more then just toss that aside though. Looking at the success of Ace Ventura, Carrey knew there was an interest in hammy acting and so he created Ryan Reynolds, a comedic actor who has all the rubbery stylings of Carrey, but who is rapidly proving he has none of the comedic tastes.
Reynolds’s latest venture is Just Friends, and it allows him two different styles of acting: mugging with a fat suit, and then mugging as the complete jerk that fat man is today. Make no mistake about it, there’s no real acting here, just striking rubbery facial pose after facial pose. Given the potential Reynolds has shown in some of his non-comedic roles his lack of ability in this movie is just disappointing. There’s nothing I hate more then seeing an actor who has so much promise fail to live up to that, but between the box office bomb of Waiting and this film Reynolds will be fortunate if he ever gets a chance at anything but direct to video quality roles.
In Just Friends, Reynolds plays Chris Brander who, as we first see him ten years ago, is a plump jolly figure reminiscent of a cross between Martin Short’s Jimminy Glick mixed with Will Farrell’s “Saturday Night Live” cheerleader character. I’m not sure why making Chris overweight (he’s certainly not large enough to be considered “fat”) was important other then to allow a physical transformation for the character. His weight is far from the problem, and other then a slightly humorous but thankfully brief lip sync to “I Swear” there isn’t much taking advantage of Reynolds in a fat suit. No, Chris doesn’t suffer due to his weight. Instead he suffers from being a nice guy who is in the unfortunate situation of loving a girl who he has been “just friends” with for many years - Jamie Palamino (Amy Smart). When Chris attempts to suggest they take their relationship to the next level things go horribly wrong (for high schoolers at least) and Chris vows revenge.
Fast forward to present day and Chris is the sexy, trim, confident figure that we all expect Ryan Reynolds to be. Yes, I said sexy. Let’s admit it - Ryan Reynolds is one of those men that even men are allowed to drool a bit over, and the movie gives you ample opportunity to appreciate Reynolds’s looks, placing his mugging face as prominently in each shot as possible. It’s just a shame Reynolds has to mess it up by overdoing every expression as if he were performing in a theater instead of a movie and making sure the back row can see every wink and raise of his eyebrow. Speaking of the theater, Reynolds also looks suspiciously like he’s wearing makeup through most of the film which, being a movie, he probably is. That’s the type little of detail the audience shouldn’t notice though, since the makeup being used to improve his looks for the camera, not make it so drastically obvious that the man has makeup on.
Chris is now a successful executive in the Los Angeles music industry and his current job is to sign the up-and-coming Samantha James (Anna Faris) to the record label. Samantha is a wicked cross between Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton - an insipid, vacuous woman who fancies herself an artist rather than the pop sensation she is . She likes to kiss men by running her tongue all over their faces as if she can’t quite hit the target. Samantha is also apparently one of Chris’s former conquests. See, after being rejected by Jamie back in high school Chris has learned to treat women horribly and use them so he doesn’t wind up back in the “friend zone”. While attempting to convince Samantha to join the record label, both Chris and Samantha wind up back in Chris’s New Jersey hometown. Since Chris left shortly after his falling out with Jamie and hasn’t returned, this sets the story up for Chris to run into all his old friends including the former target of his affections, leading to zany comedy as Chris struggles to show everyone how much he’s changed, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it’s not for the better.
To add that extra zing to Chris’s homecoming, the film takes place at Christmas. This allows the movie to take advantage of stunts with Christmas lights and decorations that would have been turned down by Chevy Chase, and I’m not talking about the European Vacation Chevy in his prime. I’m talking about gags that would be rejected by Man of the House Chevy. That’s not to say that Just Friends doesn’t have laughs. There are some funny moments, but none of them are “laugh out loud” funny. At best the jokes earn a giggle or a chortle and then it’s time to move on.
On paper, the story, penned by Adam Davis, looks pretty good. After all, just about everybody has a story about “the one that got away” from high school. Personally I can think of at least five people I never shared my feelings with, which means I had more then my fair share. I guess that balances things out though, since nobody in this film appears to have had that experience. None of the cast seems to know how to connect with that emotion or at least understands how to channel that memory into their performance. Because of this, several characters are inconsistent. Reynolds plays a character that is slick and cocky one moment and emotional the next, but the hefty, vulnerable Chris from the beginning of the movie never seems to meet the arrogant Chris from later in the film. Amy Smart, who arguably puts forth the strongest performance of the cast, suffers the same problem. Her character appears to genuinely care for Chris one second, and then despises what he’s become the next, but the two sides of the character never connect. It’s almost as if these cast members are playing two separate characters rather then one complex one.
Maybe the cast’s performance is proof that you can’t go home again, or at the very least you can’t be the same person you were ten years ago. My problem with that is a philosophical one. I tend to think that, while we are shaped by the events of our lives, we remain at our core the same person. Adam Davis must believe that to some degree as well, because this idea is what the movie needs to progress to a logical conclusion, but it never seems to reach it. Instead we just get staggered performances with alternating personalities that never reconcile.
Just Friends reminds me of the song “Hackensack” - appropriate since the song itself appears in the film, however there is more emotion and meaning in the song then there is in all of the movie, with less Jim Carrey reject style antics. Save yourself an hour and a half and just spend three minutes listening to Fountains of Wayne sing about the one that got away. If you need to figure out something to do with the rest of the time, dwell on your own personal story and maybe even look for that lost love online. I guarantee it’ll be more entertaining then Just Friends.