Not another fat-suit movie

Fat man and little girl: Reynolds gets Smart.

Fat man and little girl: Reynolds gets Smart.

Rated 3.0

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-syncing “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 the prosthetics. As for the fat suit, his work evokes 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, with Chris, now a much thinner lady-killer record executive, assigned to recruit the latest poster-girl hottie, Samantha James (a totally insane Anna Faris), for his record label. While on a chartered flight to the East Coast, Samantha sets the plane on fire, grounding them in Jersey. Chris decides to visit home and, consequently, revisits 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 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 is not going for lofty comedy with this one. He takes a well-worn premise and exploits it for every drop of sophomoric humor he can squeeze out of it. Some of the funniness falls flat, but credit the film for an unrelenting, nasty sense of humor that suits its subject just fine.

Take, for instance, the ongoing sibling rivalry between Chris and his younger brother (Chris Marquette). They fight as viciously as brothers ever have fought in movies, and their slapfests would make the Raging Bull fight-scene choreographer proud. In reality, somebody eventually would 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 all the way over the top in what is clearly an assault on the Paris Hiltons and Britney Spearses of the world. Her character has no talent and is unable to carry even the most basic of tunes. Faris’ work here is likely to piss off all of those teen-movie goddesses who decided that their ass on a movie screen equals 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 suggests 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 work to date. Now somebody write this boy a great script before he starts making Vacation movies.