If the plotline of “Friends with Benefits” sounds a little familiar (two heterosexual friends decide that sex without the relationship is the way to go), that’s because it was released last January under the name of “No Strings Attached.” This is more than enough reason to skip the trip to the theater, since “Strings” was kind of shitty and no person in their right mind would choose a Natalie Portman remake over the red, white and blue patriotism of “Captain America.” What a shame, though, because “Friends” has the unexpected benefit of being rather fantastic.

Friends with Benefits

At Quality 16 and Rave
Screen Gems

Let’s survey our pros, shall we? Instead of staring at Portman’s diminutive ass, we get to gawk at the fine – and some would say hotter – derriere of black swan doppelganger Mila Kunis (“Black Swan”). On the other side of the gender spectrum is Justin Timberlake (“The Social Network”) in all his cardigan sweater glory. This is a definite upgrade from Ashton Kutcher, regardless of whether you had an *NSYNC poster hanging over your walls at the gooey, nougat age of 13.

Caveat: It must be said that the message of “Friends” (and “Strings”) is not revolutionary. Since the days of “When Harry Met Sally,” the question of girl-boy-sex has been worn down to pieces, and admittedly, the chemistry of Kunis and Timberlake doesn’t exactly snap-crackle-pop with the caliber of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. Yet in an age of Katherine Heigl’s overlarge jaw swallowing up every movie poster in town, it’s rare for one of these things to actually be good.

The real refresher of “Friends” is the dialogue. The popular comedic technique of the day lies in the Apatowian monologue, with bromances or ho-mances thrown every which way to make up for the lack of sizzle between the man and woman in question. The style of “Friends” is more reminiscent of the 1930s screwball – witticisms spitballing from every angle, eye flirtations, pop culture references peppered here and there. Predictable to the film’s title, there are also a lot of sex scenes, but they’re imbued with a good-natured exuberance that takes away the uncomfortable sheen of its connotations. Not to mention that both Kunis and Timberlake look bangin’ while in the nude.

Timberlake, a man as determined to break into the Tinseltown A-list as there ever was one, feels a million years away from the dreadlocked boy toy of the ’90s. He does a little bit of rapping, a little bit of singing and a little bit of awkward “Harry Potter”-fangirling, mostly coming out on top. Kunis occupies a bit of a one-dimensional, girl-waiting-for-Prince-Charming role, but she’s natural enough to make it feel real.

Like some kind of a movie-saving ninja, director Will Gluck has silently but surely breathed life back into the dying teen comedy genre. What with “Fired Up!” in 2009 and “Easy A” the year after, Gluck has carved a real niche for himself in the Hollywood scene. Next, he’s slated to direct some TV movie called “Iceland,” about a group of friends getting over a loved one’s death. Sounds Lifetime enough to scare away the best of us, but with his three-time golden streak, it might be worth a shot.

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