No Strings Attached, Doesn’t Get Too Attached

Jan. 26, 2011

WHAT'S UP DOC?: Ashton Kutcher offers his carrots to Natalie Portman in "No Strings Attached."

Having friends with benefits may be convenient, but things can become sticky when emotions get involved.

From the director Ivan Reitman (“My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” 2006) comes “No Strings Attached,” starring Natalie Portman (“Black Swan,” 2010) and Ashton Kutcher (“Valentine’s Day,” 2010) as Emma and Adam, long-time friends who agree to sleep together as long as they don’t fall for each other.

The setup works well for the two in the beginning but their attraction toward each other grows quickly, making it complicated for them to continue what they’re doing. At this point Emma and Adam decide not to see each other until they’ve both slept with different people. The time apart only makes the two fonder of each other, and they almost immediately get back together.

The two try to take their relationship, or whatever it is they have together, to the next level by going out on a date. While on the date, Emma, who is not an affectionate person, becomes frightened by the possibility of getting hurt further down the road. She expresses her worries to Adam, and they both decide to put an end to their agreement.

Those seeking a light movie with good comedic relief will definitely enjoy “No Strings Attached.” Portman and Kutcher bring fresh chemistry to the big screen that makes this romantic comedy a very enjoyable to watch. They both deliver vibrant portrayals of their respective characters, but still manage to convey an honest sense of the emotional battles they have to fight in the situation they put themselves in.

The storyline is predictable but incorporates realistically awkward moments between the characters, including silences and odd dialogue.

There are also many comedic moments that will have audiences laughing throughout the movie. The supporting characters, particularly Emma’s coworkers and Adam’s friends, contribute largely to the humor in the film.

“No Strings Attached” is rated R for sexuality, language and some drug material. Runtime is 110 minutes. In theatres everywhere.

My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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‘Stepfather’ Should Not Get Visitation Rights

Oct. 28, 2009

Put together a man obsessed with finding the perfect family and the compulsion to kill women and children who can’t meet the man’s idea of a perfect family, and say hello to “The Stepfather.”

“The Stepfather” tells the story of David Harris, portrayed by Dylan Walsh (“We Were Soldiers,” 2002), and his encounter with the Hardings, a family he doesn’t kill despite the fact they don’t turn out to be his perfect family.

David meets newly divorced Susan Harding, portrayed by Sela Ward (“The Guardian,” 2006), at a grocery store, and they become engaged within a few months of their encounter. David gets along well with Susan and two of her children, Sean and Beth.

Conflict arises when Susan’s eldest son, Michael, portrayed by Penn Badgley (“Gossip Girl”), returns from military school.

Michael meets David and is more suspicious than anyone else in the family about him, unsure if the man his mom is about to marry is a genuine person or if he has a hidden agenda.

Michael’s suspicions escalate when his neighbor suggests that David strangely resembles Grady Edwards, a criminal featured on America’s Most Wanted for killing his family.

Susan’s ex-husband, Jay, comes in to the film for a short time.

When Jay learns that David tried to choke Sean as a means to discipline him, Jay lashes out at David. This starts the two men off on the wrong foot.

When Jay has to leave town for a while, he stops by to bid his children goodbye. However, he is unable to do so because David murders him before he has the chance to get up to his kids’ room.

The climax of the plot takes place on a stormy night when Michael, more suspicious than ever, decides to snoop around David’s belongings in the basement.

David catches Michael intruding and the two eventually end up in a battle on a rainy rooftop that evening. They both fall off the roof, but David escapes before police arrive while Michael ends up in a
one-month coma.

As a remake of the 1987 film, directed by Joseph Ruben and Warren Carr, this rendition is better in some aspects but falls short in others.

With the given storyline, Director Nelson McCormick (“Prom Night,” 2008) fails to bring anything new to the table. The suspense portrayed in the film is so predictable that it’s hardly suspenseful. More disappointingly, “The Stepfather” is far from being a horror movie.

In an attempt to create suspense, the movie does not even come close. For instance, in scenes where characters need only to climb down a staircase or peer a little further down into the basement to witness David’s true colors, they abruptly, and for no apparent reason, decide not to pursue those actions.

Many such unrealistic situations occur throughout the movie, plugged in to make the film “suspenseful.” Most audiences, however, will easily be able to predict that the antagonist’s cover won’t be formally revealed until near the end of the film.
The movie desperately lacks frightening visuals and relies much too heavily on audio to convey the horror it fails to present to its audiences.

In scenes where a character opens the door to find David simply standing there, the accompaniment of startling sounds typical in horror movies hardly contribute to the goal to scare viewers. Such ineffective combinations of average scenes with booming horror audio demonstrate the story’s incredibly unconvincing plot.

The original does a much better job with visuals. It shows murdered victims with fair amounts of blood surrounding the corpses, while McCormick’s version tends to keep blood to a minimum.

McCormick’s version has been adapted to appeal to today’s generation by including a heated romance between Michael and his girlfriend, while the equivalent of Badgley’s character in the 1987 film did not have such romantic moments.

Both films ended similarly with the families still alive despite being unable to meet the stepfather’s ideals of a perfect family. The events leading to the conclusion of

McCormick’s film, however, were unrealistic.

Both Michael and David fall off the roof on the evening they fight. With Michael having gone into a one-month coma after the fall, David quickly managing to garner enough strength to escape before police arrived is an implausible event.

None of the actors deliver any notable performances, they but aren’t really required to because the characters in the story are generally quite dull.

“The Stepfather” is one sad excuse for a horror movie. With an improbable story line, obvious reliance on audio to mask the shortcomings of the plot, lack of horrifying visuals, and no compelling performances, this movie is not worth a nearly two-hour time investment.

If you’re looking to watch a movie with a “Gossip Girl” hunk, a horror movie rated PG-13 for sensuality more than disturbing images or violence, or one to boost your thought process because you’ll be busy figuring out how the movie is supposed to be a suspense/horror film, then you won’t want to miss “The Stepfather.” Otherwise, look elsewhere.

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