Spinning Apatow

Russell Brand and Jonah Hill take a long, strange (and funny) trip

The sparkling element to Judd Apatow comedies is the lingering air of danger that wafts across films such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up. Here, that pearl of peril is a debilitating addiction to sex, drugs and drink that leads to a less-than-funny suicide attempt. It’s a moment where the comic impulse is lost in a misguided dramatic turn. However, that still doesn’t mean you won’t get your fill of amusing surprises in this entertaining summer film.

Get Him to the Greek has all the earmarks of an Apatow spin-off, and that’s a good thing. Jason Segel (Knocked Up) created the characters for co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) to bake this Apatow-produced cinematic cake that expands with bizarre comic proportions.

Russell Brand reprises his Sarah Marshall incarnation as Aldous Snow, a rock ’n’ roll Lord Byron-styled music star on the wane. The portrayal is a thing of comic genius as played opposite Jonah Hill as record company intern Aaron Green.

Ostensibly a road movie, as the title predicts, the story finds Aaron assigned by his Capitol Records boss, Sergio (Sean Combs), to escort the drug-addled Aldous from London to New York, and on to L.A. in time for a greatest-hits concert at the famous Greek Theater. After breaking up with his doctor girlfriend, Daphne (Elisabeth Moss), Aaron turns into a human repository for drugs and drink around his entrusted talent when he isn’t being waylaid into particularly awkward sexual encounters during the three-day journey. While not as dramatically developed as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, there are plenty of guffaw-inducing moments of queasy hilarity to relish.

The movie opens with a series of funny tabloid television exposés about Aldous and his rocker girlfriend Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), along with risqué interview clips, and a silly video for the singer’s worst musical achievement—a song called “African Child” that was cited as “the worst thing to happen to Africa since apartheid.” Envisioning himself as an “African White Christ” during the video, the song does more than just ruin Aldous’s career, it also causes a split with Jackie, which sends the singer into a relapse of addiction.

So it is that the wide-eyed Aaron comes unprepared to Aldous’ rescue as an unorthodox therapist of sorts. More than anything, Aaron is a genuine fan of Aldous and his music, except for the “African Child” album. He is beside himself at the prospect of bringing his musical hero into the public spotlight and reinvigorating Aldous’ flagging career.

The irony at play here is that the over-the-top Brand is, for much of the time, playing straight man to Hill’s slapstick-prone character whose escalating humiliations hit a fever pitch. Before a Vegas-to-L.A. flight, Aldous demands that Aaron smuggle a balloon package of heroin in his rectum. When Aaron announces that he has to sneeze, Aldous advises him to simultaneously “clinch and sneeze.” Laughs come with the squeaky eruptions that Hill executes as a master of physical comedy. The little bursts could go down in history as the funniest sneeze ever committed on film.

Get Him to the Greek is a small step forward in the Apatow arsenal, even if it slips periodically into gags-for-gags sake. Watching Hill pet a furry wall in a Vegas nightclub, where Aldous has a surprise reunion with his orchestra band dad (Colm Meaney), isn’t as funny or uncomfortable as when Aaron, Aldous and Aaron’s girlfriend broach the subject of having a threesome. Likewise, the miscasting of Combs dampens what could have been a great opportunity for humor.

Get Him to the Greek (R) ★★★☆☆

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