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Notes from the Back Row

Rain, with benefits

It's mid-July and the leaves across the street from my place are starting to turn yellow. I'm not even kidding. This summer has been so lugubrious (look it up) the trees think it's fall already.

Weather this dismal is really only good for two things - going out to the movies or staying in and screwing. Or you can enjoy a bit of both in Friends with Benefits , opening Friday at Whistler's Village 8 and the Garibaldi 5 in Squamish.

Justin Timberlake stars as a California design whiz who gets recruited by the hottest NYC corporate headhunter ever - Mila Kunis. JT moves to the East Coast and takes the dream job but in order to get her commission Mila has to keep him there for at least a year. So they quickly decide to give the old "just friends humping" scenario a go.

In real life that rarely works and in the movies - never. But despite the predictability of its premise (and the fact that Natalie Portman's No Strings Attached offered the same premise six months ago) Friends With Benefits works better than expected. Sure, it falls prey to way too many of the standard Rom-Com clichés it tries so desperately to poke fun at, and some of the dialogue is a bit pukey, but a funny thing happens right off the start; Kunis and Timberlake display real chemistry. Kunis worked comedy for years on TV's That '70s Show and as the voice of Meg on The Family Guy and here she proves she can act the pants off anything. Watch out Angelina, there's a new star in town.

JT holds his own and the all-time supporting cast includes the always-incredible Richard Jenkins ( Say it Isn't So), Patricia Clarkson ( Easy A) , Woody Harrelson, Andy Samberg, Emma Stone and others.

Director Will Gluck ( Easy A) goes a little heavy on the old-style snappy banter and there are two (too many?) flash mob scenes, but in a summer where the weekly movie quality mirrors the weather Friends With Benefits is worth checking out (if only to learn what not to do when your stumble upon your own golden chance to be someone's  "F*ck buddy").

Also opening is Captain America, the last Marvel Comics prequel-flick we'll have to endure before next summer's Avengers movie (though who cares? They were never as cool or gritty as the X-Men , kind of pansy actually, like The Fantastic Four ).

This one is about a skinny Yankee Doodle in the Second World War who's told he's not fit for duty. He persists, shows a bit of gumption and gets signed up to be injected with a super-soldier serum that transforms him into something that looks like the Ultimate Warrior crossed with a Ken doll. Captain America then goes on the propaganda tour (which is what the comic character was originally created for back in the 1940s) before finally seeing some shield-tossing action and ramping up into a full-on superhero who saves the day.

If it sounds flat it's because it is. There is no digging into the real conflict or ideologies between the Nazi splinter cell Hydra and the forces of good. There is only action and unexplained mythical laser beam weapons. It feels like a cheap set-up to get your money.

Speaking of super soldiers, the Download of the Week is Hanna , starring Saoirse Ronan as a teenage girl/super assassin raised in isolation and then unleashed on the world. It's the best coming of age movie in a long time and also has that vibrant, Run Lola Run energy to it that just makes Hollywood's latest flicks seem all the more tired, soggy, damp and stupid.