“Shut up, Katherine Heigl,” says our heroine, as she passes by a wall of posters for another fungible romantic comedy that should be sued for deceptive advertising. Jamie (Mila Kunis) is an executive recruiter who wants to believe in love but has had a series of relationships with guys who took her heart and stomped that sucker flat. Dylan (Justin Timberlake) is the hotshot design guy she recruited to move from a web job in California to GQ in New York. While Jamie wants intimacy too much, Dylan wants to avoid it.
And while we all want a good, old-fashioned (but not too old-fashioned) date movie romantic comedy, we don’t want the same old Jennifers and Jessicas getting into the same old situations. The problem is that it is harder and harder to find reasons for keeping the couple that the audience knows is destined to be together from having sex for a whole 100 minutes. And so we get the second movie in seven months that tries to turn the usual story upside down. Let’s let them have sex right away but then learn how much they love each other. It works better here than in No Strings Attached because it has a cleverer script and better chemistry. There’s a terrific beginning as we see Jamie and Dylan on the phone with her waiting in front of a theater and him explaining that he isn’t really late. We think they’re talking to each other when it turns out they’re on opposite sides of the country and both about to be dumped (great cameos by Andy Samberg and Emma Stone). So Dylan is recruited by Jamie for the GQ job and as she sells him on New York, complete with a flash mob in Times Square, they have the rhythms of a couple who are destined to be together. But in the immutable laws of movie romance, both must learn important lessons (and look gorgeous while doing so) before they figure that out. So they decide to have sex as friends without becoming boyfriend and girlfriend.
It’s a movie with a couple of references to “Seinfeld,” but apparently everyone missed the 1991 episode called “The Deal,” in which long-time exes-turned friends Elaine and Jerry decide they can have sex without an emotional attachment or romance. It doesn’t work, and there is something a bit off-putting about characters who think it can. Elaine and Jerry were famously “no learning, no hugging” people who were hilariously superficial and self-involved. But Jamie and Dylan are supposed to get us on their side and talking and behaving like people for whom sex does not mean anything creates a hurdle we have difficulty getting over. While the film avoids some of the pitfalls of the romantic comedy formula, it falls into others, with sketchily-drawn back-stories and distracting detours like an un-funny part for Shaun White and a silly repeated joke about whether pilots are important in landing a plane. Kunis and Timberlake are as great on screen as individuals and as a team and there are some funny and entertaining moments, especially when Dylan explains his childhood affection for Kris Kross. Ultimately, though, it is as formulaic as the movie-within-a-movie they watch together. That one stars Jason Segal and Rashida Jones and has a sly dig to the fake NY locations filmed in LA and some outtakes over the end credits. It — or something just like it — should be in theaters soon.