Saturday, November 6, 2010

Get Him to the Greek

Director: Nicholas Stoller
Starring: Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Elizabeth Moss, Sean Combs, Colm Meaney
Running Time: 109 min.
Rating: R

★★ 1/2 (★★★★)

Russell Brand's hedonistic, self-destructive rocker Aldous Snow from 2008's mostly forgettable Forgetting Sarah Marshall probably wouldn't top my list of supporting comic characters I'd like to see spun off into their own film. That he's joined again by Jonah Hill still doesn't do much to raise my excitement level, at least on paper.  On the bright side, neither of them were close to being the most annoying aspect of that film, or even its most unlikable character so thankfully Get Him to the Greek isn't a direct sequel to that. Here again, both actors are far from the problem and do a terrific job fleshing out parts that should have propelled a great comedy. At times it shows glimpses that it could be, but despite being a slightly smarter effort than Sarah Marshall and considerably more ambitious, it suffers from nearly the same exact problem that film had: A tonally awkward mix of comedy and drama. One second this film's a riff on celebrity pop culture, only to turn around the next and actually try to make some kind of serious social commentary on it.  It all comes to a head in a messy third act where you can literally sense two separate movies fighting for onscreen dominance, with neither winning side winning and the audience suffering slightly for having endured the battle. Because of this, and a tired satirical target, it's only sporadically amusing. There are some bright spots but just too much is thrown together in a haphazard way for it to be considered a comedic success.

This time around, instead of playing an obsessive resort employee Hill is Aaron Green, an entry-level talent scout for a major recording company that's rapidly losing money. When his boss, egotistical Segio Roma (a very funny Sean "P. Diddy" Combs) needs a game-changing idea, Aaron comes up with the idea of Aldous Snow (Brand) and his band Infant Sorrow playing a show at L.A.'s famed Greek Theater commemorating the tenth anniversary of their most famous concert. Now Aaron has to travel to the U.K. and find a way to get him there, which is more difficult than necessary considering the hard-partying Snow's 'round-the-clock schedule of sex and drugs. That's only escalated by the depression surrounding his recent break-up with longtime girlfriend, pop star Jackie Q. (Rose Byrne), and his shaky relationship with his estranged father (Colm Meaney). As a longtime fan, Aaron's investment is also personal as he tries to repair the career of a faded rock star who's last single, the politically incorrect and offensive "African Child," was blasted by music critics as the "worst thing to happen to Africa since the apartheid." He also has a relationship problem of his own with a rift growing between him and his overworked live-in girlfriend, Daphne (Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss) who he rarely gets to spend any time with because of her busy schedule.

This entire premise is about as thin as it gets but I was surprised just how much mileage writer/director Nicholas Stoller gets out of it. Maybe too much.  He takes a big risk trying to spoof something that's already a spoof of itself and choosing a starring actor in Brand who's essentially portraying a character indistinguishable from whom we perceive him to be as a celebrity. Try as you might to avoid it, this guy (and many other celebrities like him) are shoved in our faces everyday no matter what channel you flip to or magazine you read and it's puzzling to think why anyone would want to see a comedy revolving around a subject already overexposed to death as it is. This is one of those cases where you have a timely concept but also a stale one since there's no way to possibly approach it from a fresh angle.  And as ridiculous as the Aldous Snow songs and videos are, they're still much less ridiculous than a lot of the pop/rock stuff that's being put out today and probably of higher quality, so what's this spoofing exactly? They're making a joke out of something that's already a big mockery and didn't need much help to begin with.  Far from the most inspired, original idea for a comedy, for a while it at least knows enough not to take itself too seriously, which is when it works best.

The biggest mistake comes when it stops goofing around and actually asks us to feel sorry for Brand's character. This continues the tiresome trend in all these Apatow-produced comedies of trying to teach moral lessons about guys having to grow up and take responsibility. It was much more tolerable in films like Role Models and I Love You, Man which never lost sight of their mission to provide laughs and knew not to take its message seriously. But as he already proved with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Stoller can't juggle tone at at all so every crude joke seems to be followed by semi-serious scene trying to apologize for it. By the last third of the movie everything completely flies off the rails and turns into a misguided mish-mash of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Almost Famous, even going so far as to crib a scene directly from the latter. The shame is whether they're just playing variations on their own personalities or not, Brand and Hill make a great comedy team and do gel really well together on screen, with Brand proving he's capable of going to darker, more interesting places as an actor if he's called on to do it. This shouldn't have been that time and requests for us to feel any kind of sympathy for such a flimsy, one-dimensional character should have been off-limits. As surprisingly good as Brand is here, he can't be expected to work miracles or act in two entirely different movies at once. Rose Byrne is frighteningly dead-on as his pop star girlfriend but she's another character who suffers in the laughs department because she actually seems respectable compared to current talentless music stars making headlines. Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth Moss is likable and funny as Aaron's girlfriend but Stoller's script undercuts her efforts with a creative decision in the third act so ill-conceived and tonally out of place I had to check and make sure I was still watching the same movie.

At only 109 minutes the film feels overlong, as if many of the jokes were simply repeated to stretch out the running time (How many times do we really need to see Jonah Hill drunk and puking?) Scarier still, when it was over I discovered I actually viewed the theatrical version, not the EXTENDED Unrated director's cut. What more could possibly added to something like this? Why would you want to add anything? And therein lies the problem. So many of these comedies are just too ambitious, trying to do a million things at once when just providing some laughs is good enough. The script does occasionally cut loose and do that really well  (particularly during a "Today Show" sequence and a bad drug trip in Vegas involving Diddy's character) but Stoller's desire to "say something" is always annoyingly present, ready to intrude. But even as messy and unfocused as Get Him to the Greek is, it's still slightly better than Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I'd rather see a likable comedy fail to work as a drama than a depressing drama posing as a comedy.

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