Dir: Roger Kumble. US. 2005. 94mins.

Sporting a rich premise, Just Friends ultimately fails to live up to its early potential,instead settling into broad comedy that shortchanges the film's romanticpossibilities.

Opening in the USon Nov 23 during the packed Thanksgiving weekend, the holiday-themed film(rated PG-13) stands out as the only date movie among the family fare (Yours, Mine & Ours) and Oscarcontenders (Syriana).

But withoutinstantly marketable stars, and burdened with a poster that creates the falseimpression that the male lead will be in a fat suit throughout the film, Just Friends can only expect moderatesuccess in theaters - ancillary markets seem to be a better bet. Resultsinternationally are likely to be on a similar level.

In flashback, wemeet overweight nice guy Chris (Ryan Reynolds) during high school as he harbours a secret longing for his best friend,super-popular cheerleader Jamie (Amy Smart). Crushed when she turns down hismeager advances, he flees their small New Jersey town and relocates to LosAngeles, where he becomes a buff, wealthy, conceited ladies man.

Fate steps in 10years later when a plane malfunction grounds him unexpectedly back home overthe holidays. Discovering that Jamie still lives there - and is still single -Chris decides to woo her with his newfound confidence.

For the first 30minutes, director Roger Kumble and screenwriter Adam"Tex" Davis find the comedy in a pushover so traumatisedby his childhood inadequacies that he turned himself into a successful jerk asa way to get revenge.

Putting Chrisback into the emotional cauldron of his hometown - and presenting him withanother shot at his one true love - present the potential to unleash a seriesof comic situations in which the protagonist discovers that, while he may notbe that fat kid on the outside anymore, he is still an hurt little boy on theinside.

Unfortunately,while Reynolds and Smart give warm, charismatic performances, their chemistryis scuppered by a script that requires its charactersto consistently make decisions running counter to their personalities. (Hepretends, unconvincingly, to be the same sensitive wimp he used to be; sheinexplicably starts showing interest in a weasel-like classmate who writessaccharine guitar ballads in her honour.)

These artificialobstacles negate the intriguing romantic-comedy complications set up by thisunexpected second chance for Chris and Jamie - she was too shallow back then tosee what a great guy he was, but he's too guarded now to fully risk openinghimself up to her again.

Instead, JustFriends draws most of its humour (and its energy)from people punching each other, men getting hit in their privates and thingsblowing up, although Kumble is commendably lessraunchy and more sweet than in his last outing, 2002's The Sweetest Thing.

Plotwise, JustFriends also bears similarities to There'sSomething About Mary: in both films, a nerdyadolescent gets rejected by his dream girl and tries to win her back later inadulthood. But by eschewing the outrageous gross-out humourof the Farrelly Brothers, it proves closer in spiritto other prodigal-son-returns character comedies such as Elizabethtown and GardenState.

Some of theorchestrated slapstick is admittedly very funny - a grade-school hockey gameinvolving the adult Chris proves particularly inspired - but repetitivephysical comedy can't compensate for the disappointing love story.

Cinerenta Feature Films
Cinezeta Production

US distribution
New Line Cinema

Inferno Distribution

Toby Emmerich
Richard Brener
Cale Boyter
Marco Mehlitz

Chris Bender
JC Spink
William Vince
Bill Johnson
Michael Ohoven

Adam 'Tex' Davis

Anthony B Richmond

Jeff Freeman

Production design
Robb Wilson King

Jeff Cardoni

Main cast
Ryan Reynolds
Amy Smart
Anna Faris
Julie Hagerty
Christopher Marquette
Stephen Root
Fred Ewanuick
Chris Klein
Amy Matysio
Barry Flatman