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Originally published Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 10:14 AM

Movie review

'Friends with Benefits': When Jamie met Dylan — not

A review of "Friends with Benefits," starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

'Friends with Benefits,' with Justin Timberlake, Mila Kunis, Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman, Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins. Directed by Will Gluck. 109 minutes. Rated R for sexual content and language. Several theaters.

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In the lightweight but generally effective romantic comedy "Friends with Benefits," Jamie (Mila Kunis) meets Dylan (Justin Timberlake) in New York City after she, a headhunter, successfully recruits him to become art director for GQ magazine.

The attractive singles instantly develop a sassy rapport, gaze together at the stars over Manhattan from a skyscraper's rooftop, and sit close while watching bad movies at her place. When they finally get around to the inevitable let's-just-have-sex-and-it-won't-mean-anything conversation, Jamie and Dylan follow up with a marathon session of unbridled lust mixed with earthy humor.

Yet when they're done — and after several other sessions of allegedly uncomplicated pleasure — they can look one another in the eye and not feel, as many friends would, like their relationship has been compromised or sullied. They still can't get enough of each other's company.

In other words, they're in love but don't know it. Yet.

"Friends with Benefits" is no "When Harry Met Sally" for Generation Y, though. There's no years-long transition from "like" to "love."

The result is sporadically entertaining, but there is also something deliberately forced about director Will Gluck's sitcom-like humor — as if to say, yes, we're going through the motions of watching these commitment-phobic characters delude themselves about their real feelings. The question is, when will the delusion stop?

In some ways, this is a lot of unnecessary work, a slog really, to get where we know we're all going. So the fun is in enjoying the two leads, both strikingly good, and the extra (if sometimes misplaced) textures provided by a strong supporting cast including Richard Jenkins, Patricia Clarkson and Jenna Elfman.

There are awkward and unfocused elements, especially Woody Harrelson's broad, brash, tacked-on turn as a gay, randy GQ editor. But the depth that Timberlake and Kunis gradually acquire, especially when the story explores Dylan's family troubles, has its compensations.

Tom Keogh:

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