Say this for Ryan Reynolds: He can work a fat suit with the best of them.
For the first chunk of his new comedy, Just Friends, Reynolds plays Chris, an overweight high school geek pining for his best friend Jamie (Amy Smart, and who can blame him?). The first glimpse of Reynolds has him lip synching “I Swear” in the mirror, and it’s a big laugh, with the actor relishing every moment the sappy song offers to ham it up.
In the film’s prologue, it’s 1995 in New Jersey, and Chris has just written his proclamation of love in Jamie’s yearbook. Things go terribly wrong when an uncaring jock gets a look at the book, reads it aloud to partygoers and humiliates Chris. In this segment, Reynolds does a good job creating a hypersensitive teen underneath all of the prosthetics. As for the fat suit, his work is reminiscent of the greatness that was Weird Al Yankovic in the video for “Fat,” his parody of Michael Jackson’s “Bad.”
After the public humiliation, the action cuts to 10 years later where Chris, now a much thinner lady-killer record executive, has been assigned the task of getting the latest hot poster girl Samantha James (a totally insane Anna Faris) on his record label. While on a chartered flight to the East Coast, Samantha sets the plane on fire, and they are grounded in Jersey. Chris decides to visit home and, consequently, revisit his past.
When Chris sees Jamie, he doesn’t conquer all as a new man. When nobody in his hometown is all that impressed with his new life and new body, he actually reverts to his old, spineless ways. He tries to woo Jamie again, but he finds competition in another former high school spaz turned heartthrob (Chris Klein, perhaps overdoing it a bit).
Owing more than a little to There’s Something About Mary, Just Friends amounts to a funny little movie about the universal pains of first love. Director Roger Kumble isn’t going for serious comedy with this one. He takes a well-worn premise and exploits it for every sophomoric drop of humor he can squeeze out of it. Some of the humor falls flat, but credit the film for having an unrelenting, nasty sense of humor that suits the subject just fine.
Take, for instance, the ongoing sibling rivalry between Chris and his younger brother (Chris Marquette). They fight as viciously as brother teams have ever fought in the movies. Their slapfests would make the guy who choreographed the fight scenes in Raging Bull proud. In reality, somebody would eventually get hauled off to jail for punching another human being like these two do, but it’s Movieland, so no charges will be filed.
As for Samantha, Faris goes totally over the top in what is clearly an assault on the Paris Hiltons and Britneys of the world. Her character possesses no talent and is unable to carry the most basic of tunes. Faris’s work here is likely to piss off all of those teen movie goddesses who decided their ass on a movie screen results in artistic clearance to make an album. Faris’ short bit in a recording studio, where she’s laying down a pitiful track for her latest hit single, is as mean-spirited as it gets and totally on the mark.
The film is predictable in many ways, but it has an all-or-nothing approach that makes it worthwhile. Reynolds is a decent comedic actor in search of a vehicle worthy of his talents. He reminds me of a young Chevy Chase (circa Caddyshack) before he went nuts and started making movies with Benji. Just Friends, although not a great film, is Reynolds’ best film to date. Now somebody write this boy a great script before he starts making Vacation movies.