Just Friends opens in 1995 with Ryan Reynolds trading in his trademark air of smug superiority for dewy, awkward sincerity and his frat-boy good looks for a bulky fat suit as a hapless teenaged ball of goo hopelessly in love with platonic best friend Amy Smart. But the tantalizing promise of 90 heavenly minutes of Ryan Reynolds in a roly-poly fatsuit and unconvincing tubby make-up (which make him look like a younger version of Martin Short's Jiminy Glick) proves a case of the old bait-and-switch.
Just Friends then flashes forward to a present in which a slimmed-down Reynolds has evolved into a slickster with a hip job, fat bank account, and the unenviable task of babysitting vacuous celeb Anna Faris, whose character combines the worst aspects of Ashlee Simpson, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears. Faris and Reynolds are Paris-bound when the unseen hand of narrative convenience guides their plane into an unplanned stop in Reynolds' New Jersey hometown, where he has an opportunity to woo Smart all over again, just in time for the holiday season.
There's a germ of a good idea in having Reynolds immediately regress into a socially awkward spazz during his unexpected homecoming. It's as if merely returning to the scene of his most painful times instantly robs him of whatever coolness he might have picked up during the intervening years. It's just too bad the film couldn't think of anything more inventive to do with that concept than subject its star to an endless series of rote slapstick humiliations. Chris Klein steals a few scenes as a sturdy cinematic archetype: the over-achieving romantic rival who seems too good to be true because he is. Just as Faris lends an almost psychotic conviction to her raunchy burlesque of noxious pop-star narcissism, Klein's character is a savvy parody of mawkish male sensitivity masking wolfish horniness.
Reynolds first tries to seduce Smart by being aloof and jerky, then by being pathetic and sweet, and then finally with incoherent, schizophrenic combinations of the two. So it's hard to imagine exactly what Smart would see in Reynolds, beyond someone who was once genuinely sweet and is no longer morbidly obese. When forced to choose between rivals who are either grossly sentimental or obnoxious, remaining single must look like a pretty attractive option, even during the holidays.