There’s no such thing as ‘casual sex’

Emma (Natalie Portman) is a doctor in residency looking for sex with no complications, determined not to end up with a broken heart and a bunch of her ex’s old T-shirts.

Friends with benefits? In human relationships

Friends with benefits? In human relationships

No Strings Attached

21/2 (out of 4)

Rated: 14A

Emma (Natalie Portman) is a doctor in residency looking for sex with no complications, determined not to end up with a broken heart and a bunch of her ex’s old T-shirts.

Adam (Ashton Kutcher) is a happy-go-lucky dude fresh out of a bad relationship who’s content to score when Emma’s schedule permits.

Can two good-looking people make love without falling in love? No, silly, of course they can’t.

This may be the 2lst Century but love and sex, or sex and then love, remain as firmly entwined as bacon and eggs, rice and beans, or fish and chips.

What elevates No Strings Attached above the average (usually awful) romantic comedy is a decent script, the sure hand of veteran director Ivan Reitman and the likeable performances of stars Portman and Kutcher.

The script, by Elizabeth Meriwether, is unabashedly naughty, liberally laced with swear words, casual drug use and unsentimental horniness.

That’s a very good thing coming out of the Hollywood dream machine, where too often an undercurrent of old-fashioned American prudery tends to blight the fun.

The story starts at summer camp with two awkward teens sitting side by side, the boy lamenting his celebrity father’s impending divorce, the girl awkwardly trying to comfort him as he cries.

“People aren’t meant to be together forever,” young Emma sagely pronounces. “Can I finger you?” Adam then asks hopefully, only to be briskly shot down.

Five years later, after meeting again at a frat party, Emma takes Adam to her father’s funeral the next day, where he stands out like a sore thumb.

“If you’re lucky, you’re never going to see me again,” she tells him solemnly.

Four years later, they meet again by chance, he with girlfriend in tow. Third time lucky? Nope.

Portman is, of course, the real deal onscreen, a genuine thespian who effortlessly breathes life into the role of Emma, who as her sister notes, is “too good at being alone.” But it’s Kutcher who proves to be better than expected, exhibiting something beyond the puppy-dog charm with both solid comic timing and pathos.

There’s also some great supporting work from the cast, including Lake Bell as Lucy, a co-worker of Adam’s, and Jake M. Johnson as Adam’s pal, Eli.

Not everything works completely, including the somewhat awkward relationship between Adam and his dad, Alvin, played by the always reliable Kevin Kline.

And what is Cary Elwes doing there, hiding behind a beard, long hair and glasses as a doctor whose very few moments of screen time and dialogue contribute nothing to the story?

But as the picture wends on (and let’s face it, we know where it’s going), there are plenty of moments of brash hilarity — to wit, Adam’s compilation of a “period mix” CD featuring songs about menstruation — some great tunes and a conclusion that, while entirely predictable, still wields some emotional power.

Oh, and you get to see Kutcher’s bare bum. (Not that big a deal.)

Bruce DeMarra is a syndicated movie critic for The Toronto Star.