I feel like I’ve given the spiel about Judd Apatow a few too many times, the guy has made a lot of movies worth seeing and has made the comedy genre pretty enjoyable for the latter half of the decade. One of his better though perhaps slightly less popular, efforts was Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a Nick Stoller directed film about a depressed Jason Segal trying to get over a breakup while wallowing through a Hawaiian resort. One of the more talked about elements in the movie was the character of Aldous Snow, the literal rockstar that the titular ex-girlfriend had hooked up with on the rebound. The character was played by Russell Brand, a peculiar British comedian who was mostly unknown to American audiences at the time. I don’t like the guy. His basic strategy is to go on and on in his irritating over the top persona until something funny finally comes out, and these funny things do eventually come out, but you’re still stuck with the annoying stuff in between. Apparently a lot of people don’t agree with me, as his work was considered a high point of the film, and now that character has been spun off in the form of Get Him to the Greek.
The titular “Greek” is the Greek theater in Los Angeles. That was the location of a famous concert turned live album by Aldous Snow before he went off the deep end and cut a horrible benefit album called “African Child.” Since then he’s been wallowing in drugs and past glories, but he’s getting another shot. A junior record executive named Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) has a vision of a ten year anniversary show at the Greek that would be broadcast live on HBO. His boss, Sergio Roma (Sean “Diddy” Combs), agrees to this and tells Aaron Green to personally fly to England and make sure that Snow arrived at the theater and at a promotional stop in New York on time. Complicating matters is that Green has been ordered not to dissuade Snow from his drug taking ways, at least not wholly, because audiences kind of get a kick out of that kind of “Behind the Music” drama. Making matters even more complicated for Green is that he’s at a bit of an impasse with his girlfriend Daphne Binks (Elisabeth Moss), who has a chance to move to Seattle for her nursing career, and the partying that he’s going to have to engage in with Snow is not going to help with that relationship.
I’ve already mentioned my general distaste for Russell Brand as a comedian, but I probably shouldn’t exaggerate this. Brand can be funny, and this is probably a perfect role for him. He’s a strange looking and sounding guy and being a rockstar is a good way to put him up on screen and still have him sort of resembling someone of this earth. The cast member who really seems weak here is actually Jonah Hill, who I like to a certain extent in Superbad, but who hasn’t really broken out as someone with the same staying power as his metaphorical older brother Seth Rogen. Strangely enough, the guy who sort of steals the show is Diddy, who is not merely a cameo performer but a full-fledged supporting character in the film. He is playing a character and not himself, but the fact that we know Diddy to be a brash millionaire who lives an extravagant lifestyle definitely informs his role.
The movie also has a bit of a darker side to a lot of the material, particularly when it comes to Snow’s drug use and his crazy relationship with his father and his baby-mamma. Frankly, I didn’t find any of that funny because the filmmakers don’t’ give any of it the sharp edge it truly needs and they don’t film the movie like a proper dark comedy. I think the problem here is that hard drug material here is treated like Marijuana humor. Characters are seen taking hard drugs and behaving bizarrely, typical weed movie moves, but these drugs don’t seem like funny and relatively harmless substances, they’re a lot more damaging and the movie seems pretty odd because of it.
Overall, I think this is one of the weakest Apatow productions and if he doesn’t shape up fast this could turn out to be the place where he “jumps the shark” after being made vulnerable by the commercial failure of Funny People. Of course “jump the shark” moments aren’t always awful in and of themselves, often they’re mildly enjoyable as they happen but they point to weakness down the road. What’s more, we don’t know how much this failure has to do with Apatow’s brand, it might simply be the failure of Nick Stoller or of these performers, but it certainly isn’t a success for anyone any way you cut it.
** out of Four