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No Strings Attached DVD Review

No Strings Attached (2011) movie poster No Strings Attached

Theatrical Release: January 21, 2011 / Running Time: 108 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: Ivan Reitman / Writers: Elizabeth Meriwether (story & screenplay), Mike Samonek (story)

Cast: Natalie Portman (Emma Kurtzman), Ashton Kutcher (Adam Franklin), Kevin Kline (Alvin Franklin), Cary Elwes (Dr. Stephen Metzner), Greta Gerwig (Patrice), Lake Bell (Lucy), Olivia Thirlby (Katie Kurtzman), Chris "Ludacris" Bridges (Wallace), Jake Johnson (Eli), Mindy Kaling (Shira), Talia Balsam (Sandra Kurtzman), Ophelia Lovibond (Vanessa), Guy Branum (Guy), Ben Lawson (Sam), Jennifer Irwin (Megan), Adhir Kalyan (Kevin), Brian Dierker (Bones), Abby Elliot (Joy), Vedette Lim (Lisa), Gary David Goldberg (Emma's Relative), Matthew Moy (Chuck), Derek Ferguson (Benji), Mollee Gray (Sari), Tyne Stecklein (Victoria), Dylan Hayes (Young Adam), Stefanie Scott (Young Emma)

Buy No Strings Attached from Amazon.com: DVD Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy


Winning an Oscar is believed to open doors for an actor. But when you move on to other films in between an Academy Award-winning performance's production and release, people are bound to ask questions. Such is the situation Natalie Portman presently finds herself in. As if she knew she would be busy starting a family in 2011, Portman followed her glorious turn in Black Swan with a flurry of projects now keeping her as prominent a cinematic presence as any actress this year.
Few of these follow-up movies, however, stand to gain from the 29-year-old's newly-strengthened clout.

Over the weekend, she could be seen in Thor as human love interest to the titular Marvel Comics superhero. She also starred in last month's critically scorched medieval slacker bomb Your Highness. Portman hasn't completely lost her indie credibility; she led IFC's The Other Woman in February and lends support to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Hesher, opening Friday. But when her name was announced over the likes of Nicole Kidman and Annette Bening as the winner of the 83rd Best Actress statue, her film playing most widely in America was none other than No Strings Attached, a romantic comedy casting her alongside Ashton Kutcher.

More renowned as a Twitterer than an actor in recent years, Kutcher was a change of pace for Portman, who had gravitated to prestige projects beyond fulfilling her duties on George Lucas' trilogy of Star Wars prequels. Comedy, in fact, was a genre that eluded Portman (who also takes one of her first executive producer credits here), save for an oft-cited 2006 "Saturday Night Live" appearance and aspects of films as diverse as Garden State and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. Even without the Oscar campaign, an Ashton Kutcher romcom timed for Valentine's Day business with a release in the dumping group of January seemed awfully conventional for an actress whose seventeen years and counting in film have tended to be anything but.

Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) enjoy being sex friends, but can they remain true to their vow to avoid a serious relationship? Adam's (Ashton Kutcher) period-themed mix CD may be a relationship move, but it impresses Emma's friends (Mindy Kaling and Greta Gerwig), with whom she shares a place and a menstrual cycle.

As the title suggests, No Strings Attached centers on a sexual friendship between two people weary of dealing with a romantic relationship. Adam Franklin (Kutcher) and Emma Kurtzman (Portman) meet as teenagers at summer camp, reconnect years later at a rowdy frat party, and re-enter each other's lives a few years after that. This last time, they have the benefit of a fondly-recalled but oddly-timed experience. United by circumstance but pressed for time, they have sex and enjoy it enough to decide they should do it on a regular basis. But first, Emma lays down some ground rules: no jealousy, no sentimentality, no breakfast. You might even say there are no strings attached.

Adam and Emma enjoy their trysts whenever and wherever they come. Afterwards, they go their separate ways: Adam to a High School Musical-like television series as a production assistant haunted by the small screen legacy of his actor father (a cordial Kevin Kline), and medical resident Emma to the long hours of exhausting hospital work.

Since this is a comfortably-budgeted, couple-courting studio picture, there is absolutely no question where the film is going. It takes longer to get there than you'd expect and also features fewer ribald hijinks than its R rating allows, opting for sincerity and seriousness around half the time.

Jake (M.) Johnson and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges share duties as Adam's sidekicks of questionable influence. Academy Award winner Kevin Kline adds pizazz as Adam's 1970s TV star father, whose career has faded (but whose ego, catchphrase and libido have not).

No Strings Attached is standard in its design and execution. Adam and Emma each have two same-sex friends to bounce off of and supply hit and run jokes, played by Jake Johnson, Ludacris, Greta Gerwig, and Mindy Kaling (Kelly Kapoor from "The Office"). There are some entertaining moments, most of them referencing more ambitious and lasting pieces of pop culture. There are also a fair amount of misses in the humor department, from which no actor here is immune.
The destination is so obvious and foreseeable that it's tough to buy into at all, let alone at the length the film asks.

Rounding out the familiar supporting cast are Juno's Olivia Thirlby as Emma's younger sister, Lake Bell as Adam's obsessed, neurotic colleague, and an unrecognizable highly-billed, barely-used Cary Elwes as Emma's mentor doctor.

The film is directed by Ivan Reitman, an industry powerhouse from 1981 to 1990 for helming both Ghostbusters movies and the blockbuster Arnold Schwarzenegger comedies Twins and Kindergarten Cop. Reitman doesn't do anything noteworthy or distinguishable behind the camera here, but it's nice to see him at work again (complete with an uncredited cameo and a nod to his Meatballs), even if the Facebook-referencing material seems more suited for a filmmaker his son Jason's age (about whose acclaimed Up in the Air, the opposite could be said).

For the first time in a while, the elder Reitman can boast of recent directorial box office success comparable to his son's, perhaps when the family gathers around the table for Thanksgiving. That's because No Strings Attached grossed a respectable $70.7 million domestically and another $75 million overseas, both numbers at the higher end of the genre's normal range.

Paramount releases the film to stores this week in a 2-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo and as a single-disc DVD. We look at the latter here.

No Strings Attached DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled and Captioned
Release Date: May 10, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available in Blu-ray Disc + DVD + Digital Copy Combo ($39.99 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

I'm so used to reviewing new movies and being utterly pleased with their picture and sound on DVD and Blu-ray that I was excited to remark on an issue which defined No Strings Attached's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. For a good amount of the film, the mix sounded hollow, as much of the dialogue felt like the product of ADR done with no consideration to environment. It turns out I had sound coming out of both my television and my home theater, which must explain an anomaly neither stemming from sound design nor DVD production. Whoops. No such issues mar the 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen video, which is practically perfect, as is typically the case.

Young first-time screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether discusses what she likes about the cast's take on her characters in "Sex Friends: Getting Together." "Inside the Sassy Halls of Secret High" takes us behind the scenes of the serialized "High School Musical"-like TV show employing Adam as a PA.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Extras begin with an audio commentary by director/producer Ivan Reitman. He is too high on the film, but at least moderately interesting in what he points out. Most of his comments go towards reading into the story and singing his actors' praises. Reitman does commit the cardinal sin of mentioning deletions and alterations that aren't included here,
but only diehard Cary Elwes fans might be disappointed not to see what he describes.

On the video side, "Sex Friends: Getting Together" (20:45) is an unusually substantial making-of featurette. The piece pours praise and thought on the script by young first-time writer Elizabeth Meriwether, also turning our attention to Reitman's contribution and each of the cast members and their characters. This meaty look at the film (which had an unprintable working title ending in "Buddies") is appreciated.

"Inside the Sassy Halls of Secret High" (11:21) takes us behind the scenes of the musical show within the movie. Comments from cast and crew shed light on bringing the sequences to life, considering things like production design and choreography. The attention to this aspect is unexpected but welcome.

Seeds are planted for the secondary relationship between Patrice (Greta Gerwig) and Eli (Jake Johnson) in this deleted frat party moment. The neurotic Lucy (Lake Bell) gets a brief but real shot at the relationship with Adam she desperately craves in two alternate storyline scenes.

Next up come four deleted scenes (7:00), extended versions of Adam and Emma's two early college encounters and two song performances from "Secret High."

Two Alternate Storyline Scenes (3:45) let Ashton Kutcher and Lake Bell's characters have a real go at couplehood, with a weekend trip packing and break-up.

Besides the digital copy and barebones movie DVD, the Blu-ray combo boasts an exclusive bonus feature called "Modern Love: The Dos and Dont's" and unspecified BD-Live offerings.

"Previews" runs ads for Mean Girls 2 and The Romantics. Trailers for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Thor, The Fighter, and True Grit play automatically when the DVD is inserted.

Touted in a shrinkwrap sticker, an in-case insert provides the guessable address for three free months of mate-finding on PerfectMatch.com.

Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma (Natalie Portman) feel like they may be cracking on their no strings attached policy, after falling asleep together for a clothed afternoon nap.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

No Strings Attached plays out to expectations, amusing occasionally but never winning you over as it wants to. Despite its R-rated profanity and sex talk, the film very much subscribes to marketable PG-13 romantic comedy convention.

Despite my first impression, the DVD's feature presentation is absolutely satisfactory and the bonus features are more insightful and worthwhile than those found on most modern movies. Still, unless you're devoted to the two leads or to romantic comedies, the movie isn't good enough to recommend renting.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy

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No Strings Attached Songs List (in order of use): Color Me Badd - "I Wanna Sex You Up", Nelly featuring P. Diddy & Murphy Lee - "Shake Ya Tailfeather", Outkast - "Ms. Jackson", "Don't Cha", Lanchen - "What Good is a Boy?", Bishop Allen - "Click Click Click", Mark Ronson featuring Q-Tip and MNDR - "Bang Bang Bang", Hugo - "99 Problems", Elvis Presley - "Bossa Nova Baby", Leona Lewis - "Bleeding Love", Phoenix - "Girlfriend", Ellery - "Down Down Down", Al Green featuring Corinne Bailey Rae - "Take Your Time", D'Angelo - "Untitled (How Does it Feel)", Kevin Kline - "It's Your Birthday", Shock of Pleasure - "Cruel and Unusual (CPR Remix)", Dewayne Satterfield - "I'm the Only One for You", Daniel Ahearn - "I Will Let You Go", Robbie Nevil - "It Was You", Ra Ra Riot - "Boy", Christopher Welch - "Cocktail Party", Little Red - "Rock It", Megan Jacobs - "Life is Precious", The Temper Trap - "Love Lost", Plain White T's - "Rhythm of Love"

No Strings Attached: Music from the Motion Picture:
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No Strings Attached: Score from the Motion Picture - Music by John Debney:
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Reviewed May 9, 2011.



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