The Switch, I talked about the romantic comedy formula. That movie followed it very closely and, while it didn't blow me away, it did enough for me to give it a See recommendation. No Strings Attached tried to follow much the same formula. There's the rivals for the attention of the lady, the obligatory Jiminy Cricket friends for the protagonist, and the big gestures to finally win over the lady. But No Strings Attached does it in a slightly different way. Because the movie is all about two people trying to not fall in love at all, they have to take a slightly different angle on the formula for most of it. I wouldn't say it worked but I wouldn't say it fell completely flat either. They really should have either stuck to the formula or broken the mould completely. There seemed to be a lot of indecision in how they wanted the film to unfold and it never really got going into anything too good. The best example is that, for two people who see each other three times in 15 years, they hook up pretty quickly and seem to know each other better than they should (Kutcher has Portman's phone number already?). That and the friends' hooking up with no real warning or exposition jsut seemed too convenient and confusing.
Speaking of Jiminy Cricket characters, there were two main problems with them in this movie. First, there were too damn many of them. Ashton Kutcher has two friends who give him advice. His Dad is rolled into the mix as well. Natalie Portman has three roommates that all seem to get in the way more than anything else. Because they all had to share the spotlight, there was never that one "Philip Seymour Hoffman from Along Came Polly" that you could really count on for good comedy and story progression. The second problem was that they really made a half assed attempt at edgy, crude humour. There's some talk about lady periods and sex euphemisms that, for some reason, just aren't funny. When you put them in a movie like American Pie or Forgetting Sarah Marshall which set out to be a bit over the top and goofy, they get a bit more humorous. But No Strings Attached was trying to do the same thing while trying to make the audience believe this could all actually happen. It just doesn't work. You have to go one way or the other and they tried to do too much.
The good thing about this film is the performances. I've never been overly impressed with Kutcher but I've never been disappointed in him either. When an actor sets the bar with Kelso from That 70's Show and Jesse from Dude, Where's My Car? it really doesn't ever make me expect too much. I prefer him in roles like those others because he can be more physical and idiotic. He plays that very well. But when Kutcher tries to be more serious and grounded in a comedy, he becomes decent but nothing too noteworthy. He delivered that here. Portman, on the other hand, was very, very good. Her emotions were always top notch and believable. She really ran the gamut from busy and horny doctor to happy to heartbroken and took the audience along with her.
But Portman was not enough to save the film entirely. I've said it before. My criteria for a romantic comedy is 1. Did it make me laugh? Yes, but not a lot. I laughed at a few things but rolled my eyes more than anything else. 2. Did it make me feel good for having watched it? No. While I don't regret it, I came away thinking I could have done better. It's not something to avoid completely and at all costs. But it isn't something to seek out. All in all, don't see it.