Love’s too strong a word for ‘Just Friends’: Fall in like with Reynolds in this surprisingly amusing comedy

“Just Friends”

New Lines Pictures

Directed by Roger Kumble

Written by Adam “Tex” Davis

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Amy Smart, Anna Faris and Chris Klein

Opens Nov. 23

Rated PG-13/96 minutes

Three out of four stars

Perhaps you’ve seen the posters or the TV ads for “Just Friends.” In his ongoing quest to outshine Jason Lee-his scrawnier, choosier soul brother-Ryan Reynolds dons a fat suit while gorgeous Amy Smart kisses him platonically on his chubby cheek.

“He loves her. She loves him not,” the tagline says.

As far as omens for bad movies go, an actor in a fat suit ranks right up there with the name “Ryan Reynolds” on a movie poster.

But “Just Friends” isn’t as vulgar as you might expect, especially coming from the actor whose cocksure swagger and lowbrow hi-jinks in “Van Wilder” made all the ladies go “Hey! Ho!” while all the critics went “Hell! No!”

Rather, “Friends” is kind of sweet-relatively speaking, of course-and provides Reynolds, at last, with a character that’s…well…likeable.

He stars as Chris, who, circa-1995, is an awkward, overweight, awfully nice 18-year-old with a mean crush on his BFF Jamie (played by Amy Smart).

His true feelings for Jamie come out in humiliating fashion at one of those overstuffed graduation parties the movies love so much.

Chris flees New Jersey for Los Angeles, where, 15 years later, he’s a successful recording executive-oh, and he’s also a total babe magnet cum vicious womanizer.

Now THAT’S the Ryan Reynolds we remember!

Less than a week before Christmas, Chris’s boss orders him to sign Samantha James (Anna Faris), a platinum blond, pop-star banshee, or it’s curtains for his career. Alas, Chris and Samantha have a history that involved lots of collaborating…beneath the covers.

“We’ll be the best producing team since Ashlee Simpson and her dad,” Samantha says, spinning in her chair, strumming another brain-dead tune.

Chris mimes blowing her away with a shotgun, which pretty much sums up his feelings for her.

Luckily for Chris, the private jet he and Samantha were sharing has to make an unscheduled stop in New Jersey…just outside of Chris’s hometown. Hmm, ain’t that a co-inky-dink?

With the unwelcome Samantha clinging to his arm like a Wet Seal leech, Chris wanders into a bar that just so happens to be

populated by every notable person with whom he went to high school-including Jamie, who is still gorgeous and looks at the new Chris with eyes that speak unmistakably of sex.

But it can’t be that simple, and that’s where “Just Friends” has its fun.

Chris must shift his attention between Jamie, the ferociously demanding Samantha and another ex-dweeb turned stud-muffin named Dusty (Chris Klein), who cries during “The Notebook” and woos Jamie with a sickeningly sweet song he wrote about her in high school.

In screwball, holiday fashion, these complications pile up in a most inconvenient manner, producing a surprising amount of laughs.

“Just Friends” attempts to say something meaningful about love and friendship. In its own dumb and obvious way, it kind of succeeds.

Even with the fat suit.

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