Portman Snubs Kutcher, Cupcakes; Weir’s Survival Drama: Movies

No Strings Attached” asks the pressing question: Can a man and a woman have a strictly sexual relationship without letting feelings mess things up?

I have a more pertinent question: Why can’t Hollywood make a decent romantic comedy?

“No Strings Attached” is the latest in a spate of woeful romcoms that have managed to embarrass such screen legends as Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman.

You’d think that a movie directed by comedy veteran Ivan Reitman with co-stars Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher would provide at least a few pleasing moments. But the debut script by Elizabeth Meriwether never expands on its paper-thin premise, and the Portman-Kutcher pairing is as chemistry-free as a college jock’s course load.

Portman, fresh off her Golden Globe win as best dramatic actress for the artsy horror film Black Swan,” is scary for a different reason here. Her glaring lack of comic skills, combined with Kutcher’s obsequiousness, make for an extremely annoying couple.

Even Kevin Kline, who can be a brilliant comedic actor, looks lost in his role as Kutcher’s dad, a narcissistic former TV star who is dating his son’s ex-girlfriend.

Cupcakes, Snuggles

Portman plays Emma, a workaholic young doctor who reconnects with aspiring writer Adam (Kutcher) in Los Angeles years after they hung out together as teenagers at summer camp. They have great sex but decide to limit their get-togethers to the bedroom because Emma is allergic to emotional relationships.

When Adam breaks the rules by bringing cupcakes to Emma’s apartment (which she shares with a TV sitcom’s supply of eccentric fellow doctors) and trying to snuggle with her under the covers, Emma recoils and suggests they sleep with other people. That leads to jealousy on her part, and a turnabout that’s as surprising as Angelina Jolie on a tabloid cover.

The sappy ending makes you wish they had just stayed in bed.

“No Strings Attached,” from Paramount Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *1/2

‘The Way Back’

Frozen forests, sun-baked deserts, swarming mosquitoes and poisonous snakes are just a few of the hazards faced in “The Way Back,” in which a group of Soviet prisoners escape from a Siberian gulag in 1940 and trek more than 4,000 miles to freedom.

Peter Weir’s film covers all four seasons and every convention of a survival saga. The motley escapees -- including a Polish soldier (Jim Sturgess), an American engineer (Ed Harris) and a Russian criminal (Colin Farrell) -- battle brutal weather, food shortages, injuries and exhaustion as they make their way to India.

Cinematographer Russell Boyd, who worked with Weir on “Gallipoli,” “The Year of Living Dangerously” and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” captures landscapes of breathtaking beauty and horrendous danger, shot on location in Bulgaria, Morocco and India.

The cast is stellar -- Saoirse Ronan lends a feminine touch as a young refugee found wandering in the woods -- and the story is powerful. The only problem is length: At 2 hours and 13 minutes, the film drags at times. Still, the final destination is worth it.

“The Way Back,” from Newmarket Films, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***


What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on the story: Rick Warner in New York at rwarner1@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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