Just Friends (12A)

ANDREW CLARKE Sugar-coated let's-remember-high-school comedy which is played out as a small town America vs LA morality tale.


There's nothing quite so depressing as a mis-timed Christmas romantic comedy that not only comes out after Christmas but is also resolutely unfunny.

This is the unsatisfactory situation that we find ourselves in for Just Friends - a horrible, sugar-coated let's-remember-high-school comedy which is played out as a small town America vs LA morality tale.

Ryan Reynolds plays Chris Brander, an overweight, male cheerleader who appears to give every indication of being gay. His best friend is chief cheerleader Jamie Palamino, played with a nice sense of innocence by Amy Smart, but Chris, despite appearances to the contrary, wants to be more than a platonic friend.

After a disastrous graduation party, where he is humiliated by the school football team, he quotes Bruce Springsteen's seminal song Thunder Road by saying "This is a town full of losers and I'm pulling out of here to win." He flies out to Los Angeles and undergoes not only a dramatic physical change but also a spectacular change in personality.

He goes from being a camp cheerleader into a slim, super-ambitious record promoter with a string of shallow relationships to his name. He tells his friends that his policy with women is to love 'em and leave 'em wanting more.

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However, his resolve is shattered when he is forced to spend Christmas in his old home town and he accidentally bumps into Jamie again. In an instant his super-cool, LA record producer persona goes straight out of the window and he becomes that bumbling, tongue-tied fat boy trying to impress the love of his life.

His task is not made easier by the fact that he is accompanied by the self-absorbed model-turned-singer Samantha James (Anna Faris) who he is trying to woo on to his record label. She is very unimpressed by the rural nature of Chris's home town and the small town mentality of its citizens. Things go from bad to worse when Chris recruits his younger brother to keep the self-destructive Samantha out of trouble while he tries to woo Jamie.

Much of the comedy is really cringe-making and simply not funny. We are forced to go through all the usual rituals of embarrassing himself in front of the one he loves, alienating her family by destroying their elaborate Christmas decorations, while she appears to be falling for an old, smoother high school rival.

The whole plot structure is old, tired and offers nothing new and the laughs are simply a series of old prat-falls trotted out for the zillionth time. The material is not much different to the ideas first sketched on screen by Buster Keaton or the Keystone Kops - in fact, Buster Keaton certainly delivered comedy stunts with a lot more class and sophistication.

Also it's hard to shake the idea that any resemblance that Samantha James has to Paris Hilton is entirely intentional. Rich, heiress model with her own MTV reality show and wants to be a singer? It's a wonder they haven't been sued.

Finally, who wants to watch Christmas movies once Christmas and New Year is behind them? We are now looking forward to a new year rather than looking back to a Yuletide just gone. We're already full of turkey - we've no need for any more.



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