In “Friends With Benefits,” Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman try the sex-buddy thing, oops ... wrong movie. That was three months ago in “No Strings Attached.” This time, it’s Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake who dive between the sheets in “Friends With Benefits” – with much funnier results and gratuitous butt shots.

In “Friends With Benefits,” Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman try the sex-buddy thing, oops ... wrong movie. That was three months ago in “No Strings Attached.” This time, it’s Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake who dive between the sheets in “Friends With Benefits” – with much funnier results and gratuitous butt shots.


The sex-without-emotional attachments premise might be the same but director Will Gluck makes sure his movie isn’t a total retread. Gluck, riding the success of the teen-comedy “Easy A,” takes refreshing aim at every trope of the romantic comedy genre. Early on, the movie makes a loud statement that this is the anti-romcom. It dares to poke fun at the cookie-cutter flicks that came before it, even cursing at Katherine Heigl’s “The Ugly Truth” film poster. There’s also a movie-within-a-movie spoof, starring Jason Segal and Rashida Jones.


Kunis’ Jamie is a corporate headhunter in New York City. Timberlake’s Dylan is a graphic artist in Los Angeles. She recruits him to move east to take a job at GQ magazine. When we catch up with Jamie and Dylan, they’ve both been dumped – her by Andy Samberg, him by Emma Stone. One night over a few-too-many beers, they decide to form a sexual alliance devoid of emotion. That partnership works ... until it doesn’t, naturally.


What separates this film from that earlier one is Gluck, a director who has a definite voice and tendencies in only his third time behind the camera. As he did in “Easy A,” Gluck nimbly thumbs a nose at the film’s core audience, mocking a whole generation of moviegoers who dig John Mayer’s “Your Body Is A Wonderland” and who buy into the romantic fairy tales Hollywood perpetuates.


Gluck’s also adept at slipping in so many pop culture references that you don’t know if he’s trying to make the film feel very immediate or he’s again making fun (probably the latter). There’s a flash mob in Times Square, the sex-buddy pact made on an iPad Bible app, and a moment where Dylan makes plane reservations using his mobile phone that feels a lot like a Sprint ad.


Oscar-nominees Patricia Clarkson (“Pieces of April”) and Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”) lend much-needed gravitas.


Clarkson, who Gluck cast as Stone’s mother in “Easy A,” again plays the parent. She’s Kunis’ flighty mother. Jenkins is Timberlake’s ailing father. It is Woody Harrelson’s gay and inappropriate sports editor, however, who steals every scene he is in. As outsized as always, Harrelson played it perfectly over the top, leaving you wanting more. On the flip side, Timberlake was at times noticeably stiff (pardon the pun), uneven and self-conscious. A little Timberlake goes a long way, just ask David Fincher who drew a critically acclaimed performance out of him in last year’s “The Social Network.” However, in “Friends” he was really no match for Kunis, whose beauty is distracting. I didn’t believe for a second that men wouldn’t be falling at her feet. Kunis was equal parts sass and brass and seemed to be having a blast delivering the witty rapid-fire R-rated zingers from a script written by Gluck, Keith Merryman and David A. Newman.


Eventually, “Friends” does fall victim to the formula that it attempts to upend. It makes no apologies about that, rather, it embraces its big and predictable Hollywood ending.


Dana Barbuto may be reached at dbarbuto@ledger.com.