(On TV, January 2015) It’s hard to watch this romantic comedy about two young people having a physical relationship and trying not to fall in love and not think about 2011’s similarly-themed Friends with Benefits or Love & Other Drugs. It’s not a comparison that advantages No Strings Attached, which seems to be running at about half the speed and a quarter of the charm of the other film. Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutscher are likable, but they don’t do much –given how Portman usually manages to portray smarter characters, it’s a bit of let-down to see her, here, struggle with a fairly dull characters who never gets to explore the most interesting aspects of her personality. Kutcher is also stuck in a bland romantic lead role, not having much to do that be bewildered and say the right things. No Strings Attached is often frustrating because it does have interesting quirks and secondary characters who seem to have a lot more life than the protagonist and the main plot –the best scene of the film involves Portman’s roommates and an impromptu prank they play on Kutcher’s character, and it works because the film forgets about its main plot and simply goes with the absurdity of the gag. Lake Bell and Mindy Kaling are both wasted in small roles. It doesn’t help that the script isn’t particularly tight –there’s a pair of prologues that do very little in the remainder of the film, which seems inordinately pleased with its premise but unable to actually do anything with it beyond the usual romantic comedy clichés. To its credit, it’s not as if No Strings Attached is unlikable or exasperating –it’s just annoying in ways that the far-more-successful Friends with Benefits highlights with its more charismatic leads, better writing and tighter plotting. It’s not that you have a bad time watching the film as much as the certitude that you could have a better time.