When Dylan (Justin Timberlake from “The Social Network”) is recruited by corporate headhunter Jamie (Mila Kunis from “Black Swan”), he moves from his Los Angeles media job to become art director of GQ magazine in Manhattan. A sassy relationship quickly develops. They have a lot in common, particularly since they’ve both been previously burned by love. He’s “emotionally unavailable,” while she’s “emotionally damaged.”
So they make a pact that promises casual sex with no commitment – and their vow is sealed on a cell phone Bible app, rather than a Bible.
Predictably, as they snuggle on her sofa, Jamie relishes a mockingly romantic movie-within-a-movie, “I Love You, I Love New York,” starring Rashida Jones and Jason Segel. Secretly, Jamie wants more. And Dylan isn’t exactly adverse to Jamie’s charms. Meanwhile, they bicker and banter, coping with Jamie’s raunchy, hippie-ditsy mom (Patricia Clarkson) and Dylan’s aging, Alzheimer’s-addled dad (Richard Jenkins).
It’s unevenly written by Keith Merryman and David A. Newman, and if the set-up sounds familiar, you may have seen “No Strings Attached” with Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman or, perhaps, “Love & Other Drugs” with Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway – both rom-coms used the same premise. Yet credit co-writer/director Will Gluck (“Easy A”) for obviously trying to evoke the kind of snappy, screwball, romantic comedy that was once embodied by droll pros like Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Updated with contemporary pop culture riffs on iPads, Captain Sully and John Mayer, dubbed “the Sheryl Crow of our generation,” there are also mocking jabs at Katherine Heigl and Nora Ephron.
Olympic snowboarder Shaun White does a crazy cameo, while Woody Harrelson plays a coolly gay co-worker commuting into the city from New Jersey on his 1937 Chris Craft. While it’s obvious that Mila Kunis uses a body double in the sex scenes, it’s too bad she didn’t also use a vocal coach too; her shrillness can be a definite turn-off.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Friends With Benefits” is a sweet ‘n’ salty 7 – it’s a happy hookup.