It's All 'Greek' to Us
Mary Pols, Special to MSN Movies
Nicholas Stoller's bromance "Get Him to the Greek" feels as though it were dreamed up by a group of college sophomores halfway between a raging hangover and their next buzz. The usual ha-ha stuff -- vomiting, sex on a toilet, accidentally getting wasted on an unidentified substance -- is in there, but the movie wants to get deep too, exploring unresolved daddy issues, the kind of self-destructive behavior that leads to suicide attempts, and even, for a little cultural critique, the grossness of the music industry. The mix is as bizarre as it sounds; this is a wildly dissonant comedy.
Written by Stoller and based on characters created by actor Jason Segel, "Greek" features Russell Brand as wild child British rocker Aldous Snow, reprising the role he played to such amusing effect in Stoller's and Segel's earlier "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." Aldous is a man free of all responsibilities and inhibitions, a sort of Austin Powers with more sex appeal. Brand is tall, lanky and despite looking permanently unwashed, an attractive man; with his mop of long, curly black hair you could imagine him playing Jack Sparrow's pirate cousin or ne'er-do-well younger brother.
The urgency to get Aldous to the Greek is for an anniversary show commemorating and cashing in on one of his greatest triumphs: a live concert at the Los Angeles Theater ten years earlier. Longtime fan Aaron Green (Jonah Hill), a sincere, low-level doofus at the music company, is assigned the task of getting Aldous from London to Los Angeles. It sounds like a dream job, but Aaron has strict orders from his arrogant, shouting, occasionally funny boss Sergio (Sean Combs) to keep Aldous both sober and happy the whole way.
That's a tall order. The washed up Aldous has just fallen off the wagon after seven years of sobriety. First he had a bad album -- the hideously politically incorrect "African Child," -- and then a bad breakup with his celebrity wife Jackie Q (Rose Byrne, quite funny), his partner in the fame game and the mother of his child. She's taken up with Metallica's Lars Ulrich, among others, all of which we learn about from Stoller's "newsreel" of tabloid stories, video clips and interviews with the couple. It's an ugly, crude mishmash, but sadly, completely plausible. Aldous and Jackie Q look like half of the real celebrities out there.
To bolster the comic opportunities, the trip from London includes a stopover in New York to perform live on the Today Show. Aldous is interviewed by Meredith Vieira, whose other guest is economist and New York Times writer Paul Krugman. Vieira and Krugman are stiff and slightly embarrassed and given the circumstances -- Hill has trails of vomit on his clothing by this point -- this is a sensible reaction. They probably signed on thinking this would be the next "Hangover" or "Pineapple Express." Not so much.
Whatever laughs it deserves, the movie earns in its early scenes. "Mad Men's" Elizabeth Moss, who plays Aaron's perennially exhausted medical student girlfriend, shows deft comic timing. But after the movie takes its sour turn into drama it never regains its comic footing. "Get Him to the Greek" wants to be utterly hilarious but also go a little "Drugstore Cowboy" on us, a disastrous ambition. It asks us to mull the tragic pathos of an air traveler who craves heroin enough to attempt to whisk it through airport security via rectum -- albeit his assistant's -- without ever forgetting that the pooping place is always funny, even in the context of heroin and the heroin addict. It's just wrong.
You end up feeling sorry for Aaron (who inserts the balloon of heroin while we watch) and for Jonah Hill, who was so good in "Superbad." This was the same kind of sympathy I felt for Seth Rogen in Judd Apatow's failed dramedy "Funny People." He's a willing and able actor, caught in the middle of someone's conflicted but entirely natural desire, the desire to create something that's really like life, funny and sad at the same time. Like Apatow, who produced "Greek," Stoller also wants to mix in some scathing commentary on the entertainment industry. That's honorable, but the comedy here, the scatological jokes, gags about oral sex and the aforementioned vomit, is too broad to leave any room for such nuance. You see the serious stuff as just another bad joke.
Mary Pols is a Bay Area-based journalist. She reviews movies for Time.com and was for many years a film critic for the San Jose Mercury News, Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times. She is also the author of a memoir, "Accidentally on Purpose," published in 2008 by Ecco/Harper Collins. When she's inspired, usually by something weird, she blogs about it at www.maryfpols.com.