Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 06, 2010 10:36 am 
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Get him back to rehab

In this new movie from the Judd Apatow comedy factory, a Hollywood recording company flack called Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) has the job of getting wildly unreliable, substance-abusing English rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) from London to LA for a concert in three days. He succeeds, just barely. And so does this unruly movie succeed, just barely, in entertaining you -- if gross-out parties and sex and such are your thing.

Here's how Apatow movies work. The personnel move around and ideas are spun off earlier movies. Stoller, once an assistant and collaborator on Apatow's TV series "Undeclared," directed the 2008 Forgetting Sarah Marshall, his first feature, using a screenplay by Jason Segal and starring Jason as a character spun off Segal's original daddy-of-them-all "Freaks and Geeks" TV series' lovelorn kid persona, Nick Andopolis. Brand was woven into Forgetting Sarah Marshall as the Aldous Snow character. It was a minor role, but one of the highlights of the movie. So why not spin out Aldous Brand into a screenplay devoted to him as the main character? And that's what they did. The question is whether Brand, a standup comic, is endurable over the length of a whole movie. Get Him to the Greek, a disheveled road movie with echoes of Todd Philips' very successful 2009 The Hangover (whose praise and profits these folks were doubtless not unaware of), is just a series of skits with a lot of barfing and partying. It's got its funny moments, and Brand is still himself a pretty droll fellow, but the story is very repetitive. (Economics commentator Paul Krugman and Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich are woven into this in cameos, but we doubt they'll have Apatow comedies spun out of their characters.)

Apatow comedies involve a revolving list of co-conspirators who alternately act in, write, produce, or direct movies. Addous Snow, the outrageous, funny, sort of cool and sexy rock singer who keeps this movie going, is played by Russell Brand, a British comic who looks and dresses much like his character and, as detailed in his 2007 autobiography My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-Up, once acted just like him too -- only, if anything, quite a lot worse. The difference is that Brand in real life has been clean and sober for years and regularly attends 12-Step meetings. Like Robert Downey Jr., he has lived the debauched addict life to the hilt (complete with nearly a dozen arrests) and so when he acts such a character, he's playing a version of himself. Brand's character, Aldous, went straight for a few years also, but then party-time began again, causing his longtime girlfriend Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), also a famous rocker, to cut off relations. Aaron's boss's idea is that a concert by Aldous commemorating a famous evening at the Greek Theater in LA ten years earlier when he was at his peak of popularity will revive both Aldous' fortunes and the company's.

Jonah Hill is practically a comedy factory of his own by now. He was in the cornerstones of the Apatow movie empire, 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad. He's just a straight man here, and to emphasize his straightness, he has a workaholic doctor-in-training girlfriend played by Mad Men's Elizabeth Moss. What's a nice girl like her doing in a gross-out comedy like this? The tone of Get Him to the Greek can be wildly uneven. As Aaron Green's record company boss Sergio Roma we have Sean 'P. Diddy' Combs, whose crisp delivery and absolute self-possession in his scenes seem to belong to a more verbal comedy with sharper timing. The British actors playing Aldous' mum and dad (Diana Stabb and Colm Meaney) come from a more realistic kind of comedy. There are mockups of rock videos by Aldous and Jackie Q, including Aldous' bomb, "African Child," a mockery of rock stars' self-appointed and utterly skin-deep save-the-world poses. Brilliantly realized and perhaps the best things in the film, these again belong to something else, something parodic and outrageously witty, something with an elaborate, gorgeous mise-en-scène. But the base line of the movie unfortunately is simply crudeness, as exemplified by the parties where girls take their boobs out and the sequence when Aldous forces Aaron to place a balloon of heroin up his rectum on the way through airport security, or the (ha ha ha, ho ho ho) scenes when the obliging flack has to smoke a lethal joint called a Jeffrey or chug vodka and quickly becomes falling-down, upchucking sick-drunk.

Russell Brand still is funny; and he delivers his rock singing sequences with impressive panache and some singing talent (some of the songs, though, are just utterly crude and tasteless). This time, Jason Segal is given a partial writing credit just for the "characters' and Stoller himself did the screenplay; I'm not sure how good a writer Stoller is. There's not much room for character development in Aaron and Aldous' 24-hour-party trip. Take a look at Forgetting Sarah Marshall again. Jason Segal's lovesick guy was a well-honed persona, a character it's easy to sympathize with who has some depth. Feeling sorry for that guy and feeling sorry for Aldous Snow are two different things. Drunken addict behavior is colorful and exciting, alright (like a train wreck), but it's not very funny to watch somebody ruining his life. There are some keen observations about the addict mindset here. In Drugstore Cowboy the main character says the drug addict has control over how he feels because he creates his moods with chemicals. Similarly Aldous says his life is simple because his only worry is where his next high is coming from. He also has a suicidal moment, and performs on stage while badly injured because doing so brings joy to his audience and to him. In this sense Get Him to the Greek has a nice ending. But it take too long to get there. No matter how colorful, a drunken addict is still a train wreck and a bore. And Aaron, by his own admission, becomes Aldous' "enabler." How fun is that?

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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