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Know the Strings Attached

Friends With Benefits (2011)

David Giesbrecht/Screen Gems

Gawker declared “Friends With Benefits” its favorite movie throughout July and August 2010 during its filming in New York. Although one’s never sure if such a distinction comes with a side of sarcasm, it’s not difficult to figure why the finished product would cease to be on Gawker’s good side. At the beginning of the film, Justin Timberlake works at a TMZ-esque blog in Los Angeles as its art director. The fact that his job entails responsibilities generally dumped on some unpaid intern proficient in Photoshop notwithstanding, Mr. Timberlake uses a giant iPad-esque touch-screen content-management system that’s a thing of the future. What’s more, a recruiter played by Mila Kunis has spent some six months persuading him to interview in New York for the art director position at GQ. Not only does he get an offer despite wearing an off-the-rack outfit to the interview, but along with it a plush, spacious luxury apartment that rents for at least $5,000 a month to ease the sting of Condé Nast’s reputedly paltry wages.

As if things aren’t absurd enough already, “Friends With Benefits” proceeds to take “Seinfeld” to task for its inauthentic portrayals of New York and then dis rom-coms in general (as exemplified by a nonexistent film-within-a-film starring Jason Segel) for their improbable fairy-tale qualities. All the while, Mr. Timberlake and Ms. Kunis keep finding themselves amid flash mobs at Times Square and Grand Central, when in fact those usually take place at Union Square.

As his previous effort “Easy A” also demonstrated, director Will Gluck lives in a fantasyland completely divorced from reality. Say what you will, though, Mr. Gluck is hands-down the best maker of corporate videos who ever lived. As with “Easy A,” “Friends With Benefits” is a thinly-veiled showcase of Sony electronic and entertainment products: Sony VAIO laptops, Columbia Pictures’ “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” playing on a Sony flat-screen and Kris Kross’s “Jump” courtesy of Columbia Records blasting out of a Sony Ericsson phone. Do you need to guess which record label has Mr. Timberlake in its stable? Since the story also calls for the iPad and Sony doesn’t manufacture an equivalent, the film designates an entire scene to poke fun at the iPad’s rotation-activated screen orientation — presumably to appease Sony.

Aside from boasting an impressive catalog of Sony products, “Friends With Benefits” has little else on offer. Its nudity and comedy — such as the difficulty of urinating with an erection — would be amusing if you were a virgin. That aside, the funniest scene in the entire film is Mr. Timberlake covering Kris Kross. Just as one would suspect from any other movie with casual-sex partners as its premise, this one inevitably ends with our protagonists very much strings-attached. So the only useful moral of “Friends With Benefits” is: If you want Sony to bankroll your movie no matter how lame, just throw in a bunch of Sony products in your script and voilà.


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