Nowhere to Go But Down

Having achieved cinematic greatness, Natalie Portman teams with Ashton Kutcher for a rom-com bomb

After a string of flops, the lovely, accomplished and under-appreciated Natalie Portman achieved something of a career breakthrough in the pretentious horror flick Black Swan. Now, before the impact has worn off, and on the verge of an Oscar nomination, she crumbles like a mildewed crumpet. Short of breaking into the editing lab and destroying the negative, she should have done everything legally possible to stop the ill-timed release of a vulgar, stupid pile of junk called No Strings Attached. This movie could destroy everything.

Who deserves the blame for this worthless and unforgivable bore? Probably Ivan Reitman, the Canadian hack who lowered the bar for brain-dead comedy by directing trash such as Meatballs, Kindergarten Cop and Cannibal Girls. He also produced such historic film classics as Trailer Park Boys, Hotel for Dogs, the Howard Stern horror Private Parts, and the abominable Animal House. Do not confuse him with Jason Reitman, who made the refreshing Up in the Air. That’s the son. So much for placing your future, at a crucial turning point in your career, in the hands of a pro. But wait. Portman is herself part of the blame. Nobody with an upwardly mobile career who is suddenly being taken seriously would co-star in a movie with Ashton Kutcher. She also executive-produced this mess. You can’t trust anybody.

No Strings Attached peddles the preposterous idea that two people terrified of committed relationships can have a perfectly normal, happy and fulfilled life as “sex buddies.” Emma (Portman) is a med-school student. Adam (Kutcher) is a struggling writer working as a glorified go-for on a noisy cookie-cutter TV ripoff of Glee. They met cute, 15 years earlier, on a one-night stand at summer camp, then hooked up again at a drunken college pajama party. By the time their paths cross at a food festival—in a movie that knocks itself unconscious trying to think up kooky reasons and places to have sex—he wakes up naked and hung over in the apartment she shares with two girls and a gay roommate who insists he’s got menstrual pains.

No wonder they’re afraid of intimacy. Everyone around them is a sex-crazed lunatic auditioning for a psychotherapist. Even Emma’s mother, pointing to the creep snoring in the back seat, says “He’s a remarkable lover.” (Pause). “That’s why they call him Bones.” Meanwhile, Adam is stuck with a moronic father (Kevin Kline) who is a faded TV star, now shacked up with his own son’s bimbo girlfriend and festering in a hospital bed after an overdose of vodka, 7-Up and purple cough syrup. Kline once starred in Reitman’s vastly superior film Dave, so this must be the director’s way of paying him back. At one point, he dances and prances his way through a birthday party singing “I’m so happy…to be your pappy!” The criminal waste of a first-rate talent in 10th-rate material is so embarrassing you want to recommend a good prosecuting attorney.

The two stars use each other for sex at all hours of the day and night with no strings attached and—God forbid!—no love. Also no fighting, lying, jealousy, gazing into each other’s eyes or speaking words with more than two syllables. He brings her a special soup that is good for her uterus.

When things get intense, she insists he has sex with total strangers, but the girls he settles on for a threesome fall in love with each other.

The big twister: The farther they get from romance, the closer they get to craving each other 24/7. Duh. A five-minute plot stretches over two hours of tedium that gives you a royal pain in the sacroiliac. The stars have zero charisma. Sexy and petite, Portman outclasses her co-star in ways you can’t even remember. Clumsy and superficial, Kutcher is mired in the kind of clueless, adolescent smirking that typified his obnoxious TV “punking.” He can’t act, so when in doubt, he clutches a towel to his johnson and bears his bubble butt to keep the teenage girls shrieking. It’s two hours of “Call me,” “Don’t call me,” “Should I call him?” “He doesn’t want me to call him.” It’s a chore trying to describe the paralyzing tedium. It’s also totally beneath Portman, and Reitman is no help, failing miserably to get under the skin of synthetic characters who are pure plastic, and drowning one-dimensional cardboard clichés in sitcom-ready caricatures.

The moronic screenplay, by Elizabeth Meriwether, forces Portman to prattle endlessly about condoms, premature ejaculations, menstruation and leaving the door open when she pees. The writer is quoted in the production notes confessing: “The film is a sort of wish fulfillment for me.” She must be the kind of girl who leaves the toilet seat down.