Review: No Strings Attached

Kutcher and Portman make for a great on-screen couple in  No Strings Attached .
Kutcher and Portman make for a great on-screen couple in No Strings Attached .

(MA15+) ***

Director: Ivan Reitman.

Cast: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline, Lake Bell.

IT'S rare for a sex comedy to steer clear of gross-out jokes in a desperate attempt at getting laughs. And it's equally rare for a romantic-comedy to maintain a level of intelligence and even social commentary during its running time.

So that's two ticks straight up for No Strings Attached, Ivan Reitman's funniest and cleverest film since Dave, way back in 1993.

Another tick comes courtesy of its pairing of Kutcher and Portman, who have chemistry to spare. Kutcher plays Adam, an assistant producer on a Glee-style TV show who has been striking out in the relationship stakes since his girlfriend Vanessa (Ophelia Lovibond) left him, while Portman is Emma, a hard-working doctor with a distaste for relationships and a desire to maintain her indepedence.

The two have crossed paths a few times in the past but it's not until a fateful morning shag that they attempt to maintain a no-strings-attached relationship - all casual sex with none of the emotional boyfriend/girlfriend baggage.

The main downside is that the film is utterly predictable, despite a role reversal on the traditional boy-won't-commit, girl-wants-relationship cliché. The predictability makes the ending a saw-it-coming-from-a-mile-away disappointment that creates one of the few points in the film that piles on the schmaltz.

But elsewhere, No Strings Attached is a winner. Kutcher goofy charms ensure Adam never comes off as smarmy, and Portman's boundless talents lend depth to a character that is headstrong and forthright without resorting to rom-com stereotypes.

Their spark feels genuine and is bolstered by a strong supporting cast that includes Kline as Adam's faded TV star dad, Jake Johnson and rapper Ludacris as Adam's friends, and Greta Gerwig and Mindy Kaling as Emma's housemates.

The laughs are strong throughout, including a great funny/sweet moment based (amazingly) around menstruation, plus Kline gets a few good drug-addled punchlines.

There's even some deeper underlying themes about the politics of sex and relationship in the era of mobile phones and so-called social networking.

Despite its obviousness, the sharp script and the pairing of Portman and Kutcher elevate No Strings Attached above what you expect from a sex-based rom-com.