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Parks & Rec Stars!

Parks and Recreation is one of the best comedies on television right now. No arguments please. It's addictive and uplifting and so rich in individually lovable characters that it inspires some legitimate life-assessment questions about relocating to central Indiana. Amy Pohler, as leading lady, is stronger by several exponents than 30 Rock's Tina Fey, and the show's backdrop -- the Parks and Rec department of fictional Pawnee, Indiana -- is more variegated and conducive to narrative and invention than The Office's drab Dunder-Mifflin. The NBC network gem was conceived as a spinoff of The Office and has just completed its fifth season. Most of the show's stars have seen considerable movie work as a result of its popularity. Nick Offerman, for instance, the mustachioed bacon-loving boss Ron Swanson, was just in the Film Fest hit Boys of Summer, which will return in limited release in a few weeks.

Adam Scott, who plays Pohler's timid, whiz-kid boyfriend Ben Wyatt on Parks and Rec, has been a peripheral presence in comedy productions currently in vogue since his turns in Knocked Up (2007) and Step Brothers (2008). The 2011 limited-release rom-com Friends With Kids, streaming on Netflix, saw him as leading man, playing opposite the plastic-surgically modified Jennifer Westfeldt, who also wrote and directed the film.

This one came shortly after Bridesmaids and relied on an almost identical cast as a marketing tool (Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm and Chris O'Dowd all play supporting roles). But where Bridesmaids soared, Friends with Kids tumbles and splats. The premise is more thought experiment than non-theoretical conflict, and it's a real stretch watching it play out: Two best buds, Jason and Julie (Scott and Westfeldt) decide -- oh, what the hell? -- to have a child together while keeping their relationship strictly platonic to avoid all the havoc that children wreak on relationships. Cool idea, guys! A few giggly ensemble scenes to recommend it, but the characters never quite transcend their shallow, one-note boxes -- Jason's literal hangup with Julie as romantic mate is that her boobs aren't big enough -- and the film is easily 20 minutes longer than it ought to be. Megan Fox co-stars as the other girlfriend whose boobs are just the right size.  

Aubrey Plaza plays a dry, disaffected intern-turned-staffer on Parks and Rec, and in the 2012 offbeat comedy Safety Not Guaranteed, she plays a dry, disaffected intern at Seattle Magazine. Plaza, in fact, seems incapable of portraying any emotional status other than Extremely Low-key. It's almost frustrating how much her characters resemble each other (and in turn, herself); they seem so somber and annoyed and cynical all the damn time. But here, co-star Mark Duplass evokes a smile or two from Plaza, and the effect is frankly refreshing.

The film follows a magazine writer and two interns as they pursue the story of a strange man who places a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel. Whaaaa?? It's a relatively predictable message about accepting differences and moving on from tragedy, but Duplass, who also stars on The League and writes and directs goofy comedies with his brother Jay, rescues the film from non-descriptness. The financial logistics of a magazine sending a staffer and interns on an all-expenses paid "work trip" in this day and age pushes the credibility meter a shade too far, and the baldly sexual ancillary story lines are not only tacky but also stupid. Still, the scenes with Duplass make it worth the 85 minutes.

      

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