Continuing the lighthearted examination of friendship and relationships he began in films including “Bastards and Bridesmaids,” Eddy Terstall approaches those subjects within the context of an increasingly commercialized society in “Rent-a-Friend.” Working on a considerably larger budget but with many of the same appealing ensemble of actors as in his last feature, “Based on the Novel,” the Dutch writer-director’s work feels less spontaneous and fresh here, full of local humor and punchlines too often telegraphed. Outside its home market, this slickly produced comedy looks mainly TV-bound.
Frustrated artist Alfred (Marc van Uchelen) moves out on his unfaithful lover , Monique (Rifka Lodeizen), the writer of a successful soap whose characters and plotlines are thinly disguised versions of their lives. Responding to her criticism of his lack of enterprise, Alfred sets about proving his commercial instincts via a scheme to hire out instant friends for all occasions. His agency becomes an overnight success, and before long, Alfred is forced to choose between Monique and his savvy business manager, Francoise (Nadja Hupscher).
The rent-a-friend idea is amusingly developed and gives rise to some nifty comic scenes, but too much of what surrounds it is predictable. The comedy is full of gimmicky visual touches — the soap scenes; Alfred’s Mexican-themed naive art; the stark, postmodern architecture; Francoise’s yen for Zen — that contribute to the somewhat calculatedly cute feel. Terstall underlines the commercialization theme with jingly elevator music and with so much rampant product placement — characters all wear trendy clothing and there’s barely a shot without a strategically placed iMac or Smart Car — that the sponsor list runs longer than the tech credits.