Reporting Eric Henderson
Both of this week’s high-profile new movie releases — the romantic comedy Friends with Benefits and the superhero adventure Captain America: The First Avenger — can be said to suffer from interchangeability.
Not to say both aren’t satisfactorily entertaining time- or company-killers in their own right (though I can’t imagine watching Benefits, which runs a test case scenario on the viability of getting guiltlessly busy with your best friend, with someone you’d rather not be communicating with).
But, considering one is supposedly a new franchise boot and the other thinks it’s flipping the script on traditional, corny screwball comedies, both end up falling short of their goal to stand apart from the rest of the multiplex pack.
Basically, I have the same problem with Captain America that I had with Thor — namely, that both movies’ mere existence is intended to set up another franchise that’s already in motion, so these individual films feel incomplete. If the entire point was to get fans geeked up for next year’s The Avengers, well, they’d have been geeked up regardless. It’s not like any of them needed introduction to the likes of Thor or Steve Rogers, much less Bruce Banner, Tony Stark and Nick Fury. It’s like, just get on with it and give us the full monty!
That said, Captain America is handsomely mounted thanks to the wise directorial assignment of Joe Johnston, who gets the chance to fill out America‘s WWII-era jingoism with his Rocketeer-honed glow of nostalgia. And America also pays off fanboys with that dorky, pubescent thrill of the transformation when Rogers’ quintessential 98-pound weakling is altered into a Vic Tanny centerfold — a vicarious moment denied them with “born this way” thunder-hunk Thor.
No amount of flags or fireworks can quite mask the sense that this is all mere preamble, though, and coming on the heels of a summer crowded with superheroes, Captain America is both tardy and samey.
Not nearly as much so as Friends with Benefits, though, which actually already came out earlier this year as the Natalie Portman-Ashton Kutcher cred-killer No Strings Attached, as a much-distributed mash-up trailer made perfectly clear.
In Benefits, Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake trade banter like screwball comedians writing copy for Summer’s Eve. Kunis is a New York headhunter who can see Timberlake’s ego-inflated dome all the way over in L.A. She entices him over to the east coast and the two become fast friends — that’s “fast” in the “fast, cheap and out of control” sense, since the two almost immediately make a wager on their ability to enjoy sex faux-platonically.
Why are they so afraid of commitment? Not just because they’re damaged, but also because they watch a romantic movie together and come to the mutual decision that they don’t want anything to happen between them that could come from a Nicholas Sparks book.
They’re lying to themselves on every conceivable level. Long before Timberlake’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted father arrives straight from the pages of The Notebook, the two have basically enacted the inverse of Michael Bolton’s “How Can We Be Lovers?”
Push aside the banter, the snarky Shawn White cameo, Woody Harrelson grimacing through his role as a totally modern, GQ-macho gay man, the flash mobs and the in-your-face (and everywhere else) sex games, and you have the exact same type of movie its two lead characters scoff at throughout. Maybe that’s the point, but it’s still the sort of bait and switch that poisons so many burgeoning relationships.
So both these movies are completely interchangeable, though not necessarily with each other.
… Or are they?
How totally improved would they both be if you simply performed a Freaky Friday with the two male leads?
I propose a mental transplant. Let Chris Evans get nekkid with Mila Kunis. Let Justin Timberlake’s crooning weasel try to do battle against the Nazis with a Busby Berkley routine.
Boom! I just made both movies instantly more memorable.