Film Review: Get Him to the GreekThe first half of this road-trip comedy is a rollicking good time, but the energy flags when it takes a sudden detour into more dramatic territory.
Two years ago, friends and collaborators Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller teamed up to make Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which Segel wrote and starred in and Stoller directed under the guidance of their shared mentor, Judd Apatow. A modest critical and commercial hit, the film was another entry in Apatow's patented series of guy-friendly romantic comedies, telling the story of a schlubby musician who heads off on a Hawaiian vacation after his girlfriend dumps him, only to run into said girlfriend and her new beau, a bad-boy British rocker named Aldous Snow (played by bad-boy British comic Russell Brand), at the lavish resort where he's attempting to heal his broken heart. It's a slight premise for a movie, but the cast elevates the material, particularly Brand, who inhabits the part of a Sid Vicious-by-way-of-Noel Gallagher rock star so completely, it's hard to tell where the performance ends and his real personality begins.
For obvious reasons, Stoller and Brand wanted to bring Aldous Snow back for an encore, this time allowing him to be a leading man instead of supporting comic relief. The problem is that a movie with too much Snow could easily turn out to be a case of too much of a good thing, so Stoller (taking over writing duties from Segel while staying in the director's seat) made the wise choice to plunk the character down in a genre that demands a strong second banana: the odd-couple road-trip comedy. The result is Get Him to the Greek, which pits Brand's manic energy against the deadpan humor of Jonah Hill (who had a small role in Sarah Marshall as a completely different character). It's a good marriage of performance styles, as Hill skillfully doubles as both the straight man to Brand's outré behavior and the quick-witted verbal jouster who forces his co-star to engage with him instead of running away with the scene.
Greek's nominal plot finds low-level record label employee Aaron (Hill) being tasked with the arduous assignment of escorting Aldous from his posh London pad to Los Angeles' famed Greek Theater, the site of his triumphant live concert ten years ago. In the intervening decade, Snow's career has largely gone to shite, thanks to a poorly conceived concept album entitled African Child and an epic breakup with his volatile companion and fellow rock icon Jackie Q (Rose Byrne, absolutely hilarious as a Madonna-meets-Lady Gaga-meets-Fergie lady rocker). An old-school Aldous fan, Aaron pitches the idea of a ten-year anniversary show to his boss Sergio (Sean Combs...yes, that Sean Combs) in the hopes that it'll jump-start his idol's career. Aldous being Aldous, though, he's not about to just show up at the Greek on time and ready to perform. Instead, he drags Aaron on a drug and alcohol-fueled journey that includes extended stopovers in New York and Las Vegas before finally arriving in L.A. considerably worse for the wear.
Along with Stoller and Brand, Apatow is back as a producer on Greek and his sensibilities are felt throughout the movie. Few comedy writers are as keyed into contemporary pop culture as Apatow--remember the never-ending parade of celebrities playing themselves in Funny People--so it shouldn't come as a surprise that Greek is filled with big-name cameos (Hey, look, it's Christina Aguilera! Look, there's Lars Ulrich!) and references to such venerable media outlets as Perez Hilton and TMZ. One of the film's funniest set-pieces involves a visit to the set of the “Today” show, complete with a Meredith Vieira appearance. (Matt Lauer must have been busy taping his "30 Rock" cameo that day.)
While it's considerably shorter than all three Apatow-directed vehicles, Greek unfolds at a similarly unhurried pace. Like his boss, Stoller gives his cast room to depart from the script and riff off each other, allowing scenes to run on when the actors are really clicking. Although there are times when he should have demonstrated a firmer hand in the editing room, this approach does yield some great material, particularly from Hill, who seems to be making up much of his dialogue on the fly. And who knew that Diddy had a knack for improv comedy? The hip-hop mogul fulfills the same scene-stealing function here that Brand did back in Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Apatow's touch does become a hindrance as the movie enters its final act, which steers the proceedings down a more serious road than Stoller seems prepared to go. As far back as "Freaks and Geeks," Apatow has sought to anchor his comedy around a dramatic event, be it a first sexual experience, the birth of a child or the news of impending death. These attempts have largely succeeded because the characters, despite their individual eccentricities, are all fairly down-to-earth. But Aldous Snow is ultimately too big and broad a character to believably suffer from real-world concerns. The last half-hour of Greek depicts an increasingly unhappy Aldous struggling to mend fences with his ex and even heal the relationship between Aaron and his own estranged girlfriend (an underused Elisabeth Moss) before attempting a grand rock-star suicide by leaping off a hotel roof. It's a tonal miscalculation for Stoller, who, like Brand, is most comfortable when portraying Snow as the personification of rock-star excess. Some recording artists could stand to have their self-image deflated—Bono, we're looking at you—but Aldous Snow is at his best when he's larger-than-life.