MOVIE REVIEW: Get Him to the Greek

GET HIM TO THE GREEK-- 2 STARS

The R-rated comedy has always been a tough sell.  People want the envelope pushed.  People want to be shocked and rolling on the floor laughing... but don't want it to go too far.  Once the movie makes the audience uncomfortable, it's lost them.

Ever since the Farrelly Brothers delivered There's Something About Mary as the surprise summer hit of 1998, the hit R-rated comedies have been few and far between in trying to duplicate that success.  Even the Farrelly Brothers themselves have been chasing it, and seem bottomed out since the 2007 bomb The Heartbreak Kid to go with the previous flops of Stuck On You and Me, Myself, and Irene.  Sure Kevin Smith (Clerks, Mallrats, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob series, Zack & Miri Make a Porno) tries, (and I'm a fan) but all of his success never climb above cult-love status.  None of his movies are making the kind of money they're expected to make.  Just look at Cop Out from this past spring.

Most R-rated comedies fail when they go too far from believability.  It's very difficult to balance an engaging story and the signature shocking gags and laughs that separate the R-rated comedies from the PG-13 crap for the teenagers.  Have too much heart in the story and it's considered wimpy or tame (i.e. last year's Funny People).  Have all shock gags and a no story and you're Bruno or Borat with Sacha Baron Cohen.

Two writer-director-producers seem to rise above the rest: Todd Phillips and Judd Apatow.  Todd Phillips just scored the highest-grossing R-rated comedy ever last year with the Golden Globe Best Comedy winner The Hangover, capping a resume of Road Trip and Old School. 2006's bomb School for Scoundrels and a middle-of-the-road Starsky & Hutch are his only blemishes.  With a Hangover sequel next year and the Robert Downey, Jr. and Zack Galifianakis team-up Due Date coming this November, Phillips is on a roll.

The other, Judd Apatow, has been so sought after to the point of seemingly having his own brand: The Apatow Comedy.  As an early producer, he oversaw Will Ferrell for Anchorman and Kicking and Screaming, before going out on his own to direct The 40-Year-Old Virgin in 2004.  That huge success made Steve Carrell a movie star and changed the game for R-rated comedies by combining the R-rated shock comedy with realistic heartfelt, well-written stories.  His follow-up Knocked Up was even bigger and created another star in Seth Rogan.  Since then, he has produced and written for his friends and proteges on Superbad, Walk Hard, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Pineapple Express, Step Brothers, Year One, and then back to his own directing of Funny People from last summer.  Even though that list is a mix of hits and misses, each one of them has unforgettable moments (the Steve Carrell chest-waxing) and quotes (throw a dart anywhere on the Superbad script) that we all remember.

His latest producing effort, Get Him to the Greek, follows the Apatow brand model by merging wild and crazy events and characters with a story peppered with realistic heart.  The movie is a loose spin-off to Forgetting Sarah Marshall following the British rock star Aldous Snow, played again by English comedian Russell Brand, who we last saw romancing Kristen Bell away from a teary and too-often-naked Jason Segal in 2008.  Our new movie picks up when Snow has released an atrocious and button-pushing single "African Child," which ruins his reputation and splits him away from his pop star girlfriend, Jackie Q (an unrecognizable Rose Byrne from TV's Damages).  Aldous begins a tailspin into alcohol and drugs and his career has bottomed out.

After the financial fallout of the "African Child" album, Snow's record label, Pinnacle Records, needs an new concept to recoup its losses.  It is then that we meet Pinnacle intern Aaron Green (Jonah Hill), who comes up with the idea of throwing a tenth anniversary concert for Aldous Snow at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles to resurrect his career.  Green is an idealistic, yet lowly cubicle assistant who lives with his overworked medical intern girlfriend Daphne (Elizabeth Moss from TV's Mad Men).   Pinnacle boss Sergio (a hilariously intense Sean Combs) approves the idea and charges Aaron with the task of having 72 hours to go to London and get Aldous to the Greek Theater in L.A. for the big concert.

The film essentially turns into a road movie with all of those gags you see in the previews.  You move between hi-jinks in London, an array of missed flights and hotel hangovers, a stop at NBC's Today show in New York, and a reunion with Aldous's father in Las Vegas along the way.  We still get our Apatow heart-story balance with our two leads each spending their time coming to grips with their respective life successes and failures, whether it's Aldous shaking the drugs and alcohol and getting his real stage mojo back or Aaron trying to decide what's right for his life, career, and relationship with Daphne.

The #1 reason to watch Get Him to the Greek is Russell Brand.  His Aldous Snow character is so vivid and alive that you wonder where the acting ends and the real Russell Brand begins, or vice versa.  You wonder if it's an act or the actual guy going beyond method acting.  Either way, he's brilliant and is an unstoppable force of charisma and hilarity.  Everyone else around on-screen has the unenviable task of trying to keep up with him, which no one can, not even Superbad motormouth Jonah Hill or the over-the-top Sean Combs.

The trouble with Get Him to the Greek is that it's missing an important element to be a successful R-rated comedy.  It lacks that unforgettable gag, quote, or scene I was talking about that every good R-rated comedy has that makes you want to come back and see it again.  The movie has its fun and its gags, without a doubt, but nothing that you will excitedly share with friends at the water cooler on Monday or throw a "Did you see that?" conversation starter to a buddy.  It comes close with a gag involving a furry wall, but all too often before and after that misses the mark.

LESSON #1: THE ROCK STAR LIFE ISN'T FOR EVERYONE-- This is clearly evident when our sheltered and relationship-tied lowly assistant Aaron is dragged into the party lifestyle of Aldous.  While it might seem fun to be a part of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, the lifestyle isn't for everyone and you will likely pay the consequences for trying to keep up with it.  Leave it to the pros.

LESSON #2: DRUGS ARE BAD, KIDS-- Much like Lesson #1, drugs aren't for everyone and leave it to the pros.  While some recording artists over the years have greatly admitted to the successful and downright necessary use of recreational drugs of different kinds to fuel their creative energy and performance level, they ruin your life more than help.  For as many Rolling Stones rockers that are still alive, there are double that in the gutter or dead at a young age.  As for our guy Aaron, and the rest of you, don't take a hit from a "Jeffrey."

LESSON #3:  SAY WHAT YOU MEAN TO SAY TO THE PEOPLE YOU LOVE--  This lesson shows up in so many movies, much like it last did for my reviews in Letters to Juliet.  Aldous truly loves Jackie Q, but takes a while to say it.  Aaron doesn't like how Daphne runs their relationship, but also takes a while to say it.  Not saying how you feel to the people you love never helps.  No one is a mind-reader and people only catch so many hints.  Be upfront and honest.  The best relationships take communication. 

LESSON #4: A GOOD "MINDF***" CAN BE AN EFFECTIVE NEGOTIATING TOOL TO GET YOUR WAY-- This is Sergio's prime weapon of business, and it surprisingly works.  It got Aaron to London.  It keeps his workplace in line and it makes for a good laugh too.  Sean Combs must have been taking lessons from Keyser Soze.