‘Friends’ benefits from Timberlake turn

Justin Timberlake is like the model in that shampoo commercial who begged us not to hate her because she's beautiful.

I try not to resent Mr. Timberlake, but it's difficult. Seriously, how much good fortune can attach itself to one guy?

'N Sync ('N Sync!) makes him a multimillionaire by the time he's 20, and instead of doing the accepted thing - blowing it all on drugs and rehab, then aging rapidly and prematurely - he keeps touring and getting richer.

And instead of dating porn stars or Courtney Love, he goes out with awesome women, one after the other. He ditches a girl like Cameron Diaz as if there's always going to be a Jessica Biel right around the corner . . . and there is!

Then he starts making movies, and that's a good thing, because you know like most singers-turned-actors, he's going to fall flat on his face, and then "Black Snake Moan" and "Social Network" come out and . . . he's really good.

And that's not even the worst part.

The worst part?

He's like a two handicap.

A two!

What's next?

A rom-com with Hollywood's most adorable/sexy starlet?

Yes. He and Mila Kunis, in "Friends With Benefits," is another version of the comedy in which two single friends vow to have convenient sex without the mess of emotional attachment.

The movie is much more sexually candid than "No Strings Attached," and the chemistry between the leads much better. Remember Natalie Portman kissing Ashton Kutcher in that movie? She looked like a bird eating seeds off Kutcher's face.

Timberlake and Kunis are helped by a screenplay with an avalanche of one-liners. Timberlake gets exposed a little here over 98 minutes, but he's made a smart move, picking a light comedy script that didn't ask for too much and has enough glib patter to keep his character energized.

Kunis does most of the heavy lifting - her character secretly wants more from the relationship, and Kunis is able to show this without saying it.

The movie's instinct for the cute line is a weakness at times. Patricia Clarkson (shades of "Easy A") is another kooky, gabbing TMI adult, playing Kunis' mom.

"Friends With Benefits" is certainly predictable, but confronts the limitations of rom-com formula head on. Like the upcoming "Crazy Stupid Love," it has its characters poke fun at the requirements of the genre, then conform to them, creating a meta-joke.

In "Friends" this takes the form of a movie-within-a-movie, providing some laughs for Rashida Jones and a (portly!) Jason Segel.

Friends With Benefits

Directed by Will Gluck. With Mila Kunis, Woody Harrelson, Jenna Elfman, Justin Timberlake, Richard Jenkins, Patricia Clarkson, Bryan Greenberg. Distributed by Sony/Screen Gems.

Running time: 2 hours, 0 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for sexual content and language).