Without Benefits

Ivan Reitman proves he's hopelessly out of touch with 'No Strings Attached'

Has Natalie Portman pulled a Norbit and hurt her Oscar chances by starring in an awful movie released around the time when people will be voting for 2010's Best Actress?

Eddie Murphy was a Best Supporting Actor favorite for Dreamgirls in 2007, but then he dropped an unholy deuce with Norbit that February, and lo and behold, he lost the prize come awards time.

No Strings Attached, the latest from director Ivan Reitman, doesn't approach the acridness of Norbit, but it's pretty stinky, and it doesn't lend itself to the Black Swan star's current credibility.

Portman stars as Emma, a miserable human being with the sort of intimacy issues that would land most people in the pysch ward, but she looks like Natalie Portman, so she gets to roam the Earth freely. When she is reintroduced to Adam (Ashton Kutcher), a guy who tried to finger her at summer camp when they were young adults, she discovers he's really hot, so they start having sex.

Emma doesn't want an intimate relationship; she just wants to rut like an animal. Meanwhile, Adam thinks Emma is super-cool awesome, and falls in love. So he gets all sad and cuddly, while she just wants him for his happy cock.

Of course, this will not be the case when it all plays out, right? Perhaps she's really not a monster at all, and she thinks he's super cool, too ... right? Hmm ... I wonder how this will all turn out.

The number of years since Ivan Reitman last directed a decent comedy now stands at 17. (Junior, featuring a pregnant Arnold Schwarzenegger, was OK.) I've complained recently that directors James L. Brooks, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen seem woefully out of touch with their subjects these days. Well, add Reitman to that list; he is too old and too detached from the material to be tackling a youngish-adult-sex comedy. It's creepy!

How much is Reitman out of touch? Let me count the ways.

1. He does the old "let's get the condom on before I squirt or you lose interest!" gag that hasn't been funny since 1982. Actually, that one was never funny.

2. He put Cary Elwes in a supporting role. Having Cary Elwes in your movie was fine circa 1987, but is now considered silly and useless. (See Saw.)

3. There is a silly sex montage with an Elvis song playing on the soundtrack. Yeah, these kids today really relate to the classic rock stylings of Elvis Presley, especially when they are fornicating. Why not just put Al Jolson on the soundtrack while they put body parts in one another? Or perhaps Neil Diamond's "Cracklin' Rosie"?

4. Domestic violence. This is another one of those movies in which lovers can punch each other in public without going to jail.

5. A spoof of a High School Musical-type TV show. High School Musical is so 2006.

I will also cite tasteless gay jokes, menstruation jokes, Kevin Kline playing the piano and the casting of Kutcher opposite Portman as other signs that Reitman doesn't know what he's doing here in 2011.

Ashton Kutcher has basically become a modern-day William "Billy" Baldwin. Remember Billy Baldwin? He's the Baldwin brother who had a promising future until he started picking his projects based upon the roundness and firmness of his co-star's ass. He did the trifecta of Sliver (with Sharon Stone), Fair Game (with Cindy Crawford) and Three of Hearts (with Sherilyn Fenn and Kelly Lynch) and basically torpedoed his career. He now wallows in bottom-feeder films and TV shows, but he did get to dry-hump Sharon Stone, so he's got that going for him.

While Baldwin starred in bad '90s action/thriller romances, Kutcher is making his name in awful romantic comedies with hot leading ladies. Portman is the latest co-star added to Kutcher's list that includes Cameron Diaz (What Happens in Vegas), Katherine Heigl (Killers), Zoe Saldana (Guess Who) and, of course, Amanda Peet (A Lot Like Love).

So, yeah, Kutcher is basically a movie gigolo. He has some minor comic talent, but the limits of those talents were probably reached somewhere around the release of Dude, Where's My Car? 11 years ago.

While Portman might have an aptitude for good comedy, her performance here is quite bad. Whether she's stuffing doughnut holes in her mouth while singing in the car, or calling somebody a "pumpkin head" for no reason, she always looks like she is holding back laughter while trying to be funny. Hopefully she'll put a funnier, more-composed foot forward in the soon-to-be-released Your Highness.

Reitman is currently trying to ramp up Ghostbusters III, a film I was hoping for until it was announced that he would not only produce, but direct. Since the old Ghostbusters are rumored to be passing the torch in the proposed new plot to a younger group of recruits, perhaps Reitman should do the same, and give the directorial reins to somebody who didn't stop being funny nearly 20 years ago.

I still believe last year's Best Actor winner, Jeff Bridges, will call out Portman's name when it comes time to award the Best Actress Oscar this year. Perhaps as he hands her the statue, he'll whisper in her ear something along the lines of, "Hey, I saw that Kutcher film you were in. I still voted for you, but, man, that thing sucked more than TRON: Legacy!"

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