Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Get Him to the Greek

Judd Apatow rules the comedy universe because he and his collaborators have mastered a simple formula: raunchy humor plus emotional heft. His characters like to trade barbs about gayness and masturbation and other chestnuts, but they also have textured relationships with each other and genuine emotional arcs. It's an approach that has produced some hilarious and heartfelt films (and Funny People, which is by no means a bad movie, but also by no means a comedy), and a couple of botch-jobs. One of those is the fitfully gut-busting Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and, now, Nick Stoller's spin-off of the very good Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek. It's not a coincidence that both of these failed efforts focus on drug addicted rock stars. The "Apatow touch" works by taking generally generic characters pursuing generally generic comedy plots (a virgin trying to get laid, a dude getting over a hard break-up), but taking those plots into unexpected directions. When your lead character is a drug-addled rock star dealing with his trademarked "nightmare descent into booze and pills," there really aren't any unexpected directions. Dewey Cox and, in this film, Russel Brand's Aldous Snow, are larger-than-life characters with VH1-ready problems; drug addiction, distant family members, and the essential emptiness of the hedonist rock god lifestyle. Not only are such travails difficult for your average filmgoer to relate to, they hit such obvious dramatic beats that nothing of interest can emerge.

Even worse, the Apatowian obsession with dramatic weight ends up derailing the comedic momentum of a movie that should move with a frantic energy. The plot summary suggests a comedy bullet train a'la After Hours mixed with the drug fueled antics of Cheech and Chong, but the hijinx are undercut at every turn by bathos-laden stabs at meaning. For a movie built on a ticking clock premise and fueled by the heroic intake of booze and hard drugs, Greek never hits the sort of delirious heights it should. There are a few moments that feel like they're about to tip the balance of the movie into outright madness, but they're never sustained enough, and at any rate are consistently undercut by rote and boring character development. Aldous Snow is funny as a rock 'n roll caricature, He's downright ponderous as a redemption-seeking Leif Garrett stand-in. All these words, and really all that needs to be said is that Sean "Diddy" Combs is definitely the funniest thing in this movie. Make of that what you will.