Many movies that set out to mock or analyze cliches in their genre fall prey to using those same cliches eventually. This is the fate of Friends with Benefits, a romantic comedy about two buddies who decide that romance-free sex is the way to go (not to be confused with No Strings Attached, in which two buddies decide that romance-free sex is the way to go).

Friends with Benefits starts with a meet-cute, as professional headhunter Jamie (Mila Kunis) winds up on an airport conveyor belt dodging luggage while waiting for Dylan (Justin Timberlake), a successful blogger from California being recruited for GQ Magazine. After Jamie gives Dylan a New York tour that has everything from famous landmarks to a flash mob, Dylan takes the job and moves here. The two become buddies and, with nothing going on in their love lives, decide that everything will be fine if they have sex once (which turns into a lot of times) with no emotional commitment or personal attachments. Of course, things get complicated (which Dylan should know, as he mentions watching Seinfeld and they've used this plot in an episode).

To round out the action, we get: Jamie's mother Lorna (Patricia Clarkson), a free spirit who's often drinking and fooling around; Dylan's colleague Tommy (Woody Harrelson), a sports writer who's very gay and very actively looking for a hook-up; and, for a serious dramatic turn, Dylan's California family, including his father (played by Richard Jenkins) who is struggling with Alzheimer's. Friends with Benefits also has too-brief cameos at the opening by Andy Samberg and Emma Stone as two people dumping the film's main characters.

Dylan and Jamie may watch and make fun of a romantic tearjerker, but Friends with Benefits winds up almost the same as that which they ridicule. Mila Kunis has a nice sense of both the acerbic and romantic as the spunky Jamie, and Justin Timberlake is far better here as a regular guy than as his nice-guy parody in Bad Teacher, but Friends with Benefits offers little new in terms of either sex or relationships (or the mixing and separation of the two). There are lots of cute moments but very few funny ones -- which is a pity for a comedy. (I do have to give props to Harrelson for his never-let-up performance.) Friends with Benefits winds up as a very typical romantic comedy.

Overall grade: C

Reviewed by James Lynch

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