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Review – Friends With Benefits (15) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

Six months ago, the light-hearted No Strings Attached came out. It starred Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, and explored the idea of whether or not friends could have sexual relations devoid of emotion. Friends With Benefits deals again with this issue, just with better jokes and more sex.

Dylan and Jamie making their pact to have 'no emotions, just sex.'

Friends With Benefits centres round Jamie (Mila Kunis – Family Guy, Black Swan, Oz: The Great and Powerful) and Dylan (Justin Timberlake – Alpha Dog, The Social Network, In Time), both of whom are ‘emotionally damaged’ after being dumped by their respective boyfriend and girlfriend. Jamie is a head-hunter, who flies Dylan over from LA to New York to recruit him for the advertising firm, GQ. No sooner does Dylan get off the plane, the two of them strike up a friendship that soon goes beyond the borders of a platonic relationship. The question is: can they keep it up without falling for one another?

The storyline is enjoyable and far from intense. Friends With Benefits is filled with sex scenes, but lacks the volume of nudity seen in Love & Other Drugs. However, just like in No Strings Attached, Friends With Benefits becomes predictable and a little cliché by the end (as is to be expected from a romantic comedy). Even the key song of the film, the normally very pleasant Closing Time by Semisonic, feels a little overused and cheesy by the end.

Dylan's sister, Annie (Jenna Elfman). She cannot believe that her brother is not going out with Jamie.

Over-all, director-producer, Will Gluck (Easy A, Fired Up!), has put the film together nicely. There are some corny moments and conveniences in the plot, but it could have been so much worse, as The Back-Up Plan and Valentine’s Day illustrate. Likewise, the dialogue and the acting are not terrible either. There is some good banter between the appealing Jamie and Dylan, which will make the audience laugh. The humour in Friends With Benefits may lack the sophistication of that in One Day; nevertheless, it is not slapstick.

Out of the two main characters, Mila Kunis steals the show. Indeed, she is the star of the movie. Not only is Kunis strikingly attractive (even in the mornings after a steamy night), her character, Jamie, has a fun and lively personality that is the envy of single men (and possibly some married ones too). Additionally, when Jamie needs to be severe or upset, Kunis makes it look genuine. This is not the case with Justin Timberlake. Playing the young, up-coming, smooth-talking manager, he does just fine. Yet, when he attempts to be serious he looks like a petulant child not getting his way.

Dylan and Jamie going for a walk in the park.

The characters and the storyline in Friends With Benefits have their flaws. Both of the key players lack depth; as does the rest of the cast, with perhaps the exception of Dylan’s father (Richard Jenkins – Changing Lanes, Burn After Reading, The Cabin in the Woods). Moreover, the movie does not adequately explain why Dylan and Jamie are ‘emotionally screwed up’. (Then again, this is a romantic comedy. What was one expecting?)

For those who enjoyed No Strings Attached, there is little doubt that they will enjoy Friends With Benefits too. The latter film is fun and, in Jamie (Mila Kunis), has a girl that is the stuff of dreams. Furthermore, the movie has some amusing jokes, and enables the audience to switch off whilst watching two good-looking people making out with one another regularly. Whether one will come out believing that a friend with benefits is possible is another matter.

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Review – Rio 3D (U) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

In recent times, there have been some exceptional animated films; the pick of the bunch being Toy Story 3. Kung-Fu Panda and Coraline have their merits for humour and horror, respectively; however, they lack the je ne sais quoi of Toy Story 3. For similar reasons, Rio falls short, despite being enjoyable and cute.

Blu and Linda showing that they are the best of friends

Rio is about a blue McCaw called Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg – The Social Network, Zombieland, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), a shy and dorky bird that can’t fly. At a young age, Blu is taken from his home in the Amazon and finds himself randomly in Minnesota. There, he is looked after by a young girl Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann – The Cable Guy, 17 Again, Knocked Up). Fifteen years later, Tulio (voiced by Rodrigo Santoro – 300, Che I & II, I Love You Philip Morris), a scientist, finds Linda and tells her that Blu is the last of his species. There is only one other blue McCaw and she is in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Thus, the only way to save the species is by taking Blu to Rio.

Once in Rio, Blu is put into a cage with the beautiful, but feisty Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway – The Devil Wears Prada, Love And Other Drugs, One Day). Yet, dark forces in the underworld of Rio desire these birds for profit. Not long after Blu and Jewel are caged up, they are stolen by smugglers; much to the consternations of Linda and Tulio. Blu and Jewel are determined to get out of captivity: the latter to fly freely through the Amazon; the former to find Linda. It will not be easy and being chained together makes matters harder for them.

There is nothing especially original about Rio’s plot. It moves at the right pace so as to keep its viewers interested, but it gets a bit naff towards the end. Nevertheless, there are many sweet and funny moments in the film; especially, the singing and rapping by Pedro (Will.i.am. – Madagascar 2, Knight And Day, Freedom Writers) and Nico (Jamie Foxx – Collateral, Law Abiding Citizen, Miami Vice). Anne Hathaway also has a surprisingly powerful voice. But, on the whole, Rio is not as funny as the hilarious Kung-Fu Panda (and perhaps Kung-Fu Panda 2, which is released later this year).

Blu and Jewel being shown the way by another bird who is willing to help them.  Alas, the director and script-writer, Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age I, II, III), has ensured that Rio is not a satire. This could have given the film a sophisticated edge. Additionally, the characters are very two-dimensional: Blu somehow looks and acts just as geeky as Jesse Eisenberg did in The Social Network; whilst Jewel acts throughout like a spoilt princess with no claim to royalty.

On another note, the graphics are fine for what the movie is; although, the 3D effects add little to the film. Indeed, Rio is not Avatar in the sense that, like Legend Of The Guardians and Alice In Wonderland, it was not made to be, primarily, a 3D movie.

All in all, Rio is a movie for children. It is cute and will put smiles on the faces of those who watch it. However, if one thinks that it’s going to be the next Toy Story 3 then disappointment will follow.

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