Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman star in the new raunchy romantic-comedy 'No Strings Attached.' Photo: Paramount Pictures

Hook up with 'No Strings Attached'

Natalie Portman's new sex comedy offers more bang for the buck

By Chris Azzopardi

Sex comedies always have the advantage over other movies: They're about sex. You know even if they're tragically inept in satisfying film snobs there's the salaciousness of it all, something the shockingly amusing "No Strings Attached" manages with its simply-sex setup.

It also stars the on-fire Natalie Portman, who continues her good-girl-gone-bad bonanza after playing a bonkers ballerina in the career-upgrade "Black Swan." Except now the actress isn't entertaining babe-bedding wet dreams (but hey, lesbians, you see her ass though), instead sleeping with Ashton Kutcher (his ass too, gays), who plays the doting romantic to her guarded, dude-like type.

Of course Emma, a smart doctor, and Adam, a producer for a "Glee"-esque show, go way back; they've known each other since summer camp when she attested that people aren't meant to be together forever and he - horny and teenaged - awkwardly, though almost appropriately in context, asked to finger her (she totally, um, opened herself up to that, didn't she?). Of course they coincidentally bump into each other years later at a frat party in, of all places, Ann Arbor. Of course, as they spontaneously romp everywhere imaginable (the bedroom, the office, the car), Adam wants more - that scary four-letter word that makes Emma freak: L-O-V-E. And of course you know how it ends.

But "No Strings Attached" - written by first-time screenplay scribe Liz Meriwether, refreshingly reversing traditional gender roles, and directed by Ivan Reitman in his return to R-rated raunch ("My Super Ex-Girlfriend," "Kindergarten Cop") - is, despite a trailer that completely undersells it, just like a non-committal fling: good for what it is.

We know what's coming (sex pun alert), but reaching the inevitable is more fun than poking around some randomite, and so much of that has to do with the unsuspecting witty crudeness in Meriwether's writing and a committed, against-type Portman. The actress is sweetly endearing, downright dirty, the most animated she's ever been, and, I swear to god, she was actually sloshed during her drunk scene; she was that good. Kutcher is...well, Kutcher. Portman's part teeters on caricature, which wrecks her character's credibility, but she at least has more going for her than Kutcher's pancake-flat wooer, who's far less interesting (that ass, though!).

But those flaws (uh, so why exactly is Emma so afraid of love?) barely register when jokes jump out at you every few seconds, until the dragging final act anyway, like a stand-up act. That's the doing of a bright supporting cast, who distract from all the shortcomings with zingers like, "You know the best part of having gay dads? They're never gonna eat out my ex-girlfriends." Best known for his "Chelsea, Lately" stint, Guy Branum, as Portman's gay roomie, is also hilariously quippy; Kevin Kline too, in an out-there crazy dad role, is insanity at its cartoonish best.

Like a hook-up, you know what to expect from "No Strings Attached." And it gives it to you good.

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