FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS sure makes a big deal about avoiding the stereotypes of your average rom-com. An early scene has female protagonist Jamie (Mila Kunis) cursing the poster for a Katherine Heigl flick, and there's a recurring un-credited meta-cameo featuring Jason Segel and Rashida Jones as stars of one such densely clichéd slipshod flick making the rounds on television. It's a false front, however—for all it doth protest, Benefits' end result follows the familiar arc of the genre, to a serviceable but middling effect.
It's a tragic squander of talent. Justin Timberlake plays opposite Kunis as Dylan, and the film is chockablock with crowd favorites filling minor roles: Jenna Elfman as Dylan's charmingly salt-of-the-earth sister; Bryan Greenberg and a hilarious Emma Stone as recent exes; Woody Harrelson as a gay sports reporter; Patricia Clarkson as Jamie's swinger mom; and pro-snowboarder Shaun White as himself. It's great that all the cool kids came to the party, but it just doesn't add up to much. For all its efforts to distance itself from the pap—mostly with raunchy sex banter—it doesn't come nearly as close to pushing the envelope as last year's potty-mouthed Going the Distance, which offset its typically happy ending with refreshingly authentic window dressing in the form of binge drinking, recession-stifled careers, and shitty New York apartments with actual pot-smoking roommates.
By contrast, Dylan and Jamie are young successes, she is a corporate headhunter and he is the newly minted art director of GQ, jobs facilitating exceptionally roomy Manhattan pads with no roomies in sight. The premise of the film, made obvious by the title and trailer, is they are two friends who decide to sleep together without any of the emotional drama, which leads to a fallout, which leads to them overcoming their longstanding emotional hang-ups, which leads to a happily-ever-after lovey-dovey conclusion—it's hardly groundbreaking stuff. It's the same this-is-never-gonna-happen-except-it's-totally-happening trope that's been splashed all over the genre, from 2003's How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days to 2009's New in Town and beyond.
Perhaps it would have been a better strategy not to strain so hard in insisting that Benefits is different—but probably not. Kunis and Timberlake are likeably goofy, and Kunis in particular has an asset in the real-girl relatability first glimpsed in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. But the script is just too unremarkable, and considering the cast, most of the humor feels forced and somewhat random (for instance the airlifting of Timberlake in a foil blanket that is the highlight of the trailer is a bizarrely isolated episode). Fans of director Will Gluck, who did a bang-up job with Easy A, will want to get their dose, but this one's not going to win him many new converts.