Now here’s a relatively new (if not necessarily welcome) idea: the sorta-kinda-not-really sequel. In writer-director Nicholas Stoller’s Get Him to the Greek, Russell Brand reprises his role from Forgetting Sarah Marshall (also helmed by Stoller) as druggie sexpot rocker Aldous Snow, while his costar in that film, Jonah Hill, plays an entirely different character, record company underling Aaron Green. Aaron is charged by media mogul boss Sergio (P. Diddy, playing a moderately goofier version of himself) to pick up Aldous in London and transport him to L.A.‘s Greek Theater. There, he’ll perform a 10th-anniversary concert in celebration of his famous live album and, in the process, resurrect a career shattered by substance abuse, heartbreak over the departure of his raunchy singer wife Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), and a spectacularly disastrous last record called African Child that one review dubbed “the worst thing for Africa since apartheid.” Coping with a crumbling relationship to a nurse (Elisabeth Moss), Aaron is a good-hearted schlub trying to do his job while Aldous is a self-destructive ne’er-do-well, and their odd couple-on-the-road scenario leads to the type of outrageous odyssey of many a zany cinematic comedy, all tinged with producer Judd Apatow’s trademark brand of potty-mouthed sentimentality.
Like Funny People, what drama exists in the film revolves around woe-is-me celebrity misery, with Aldous explaining, in a somber third-act speech, that for all his success, he’s lonely and sad. Well boo hoo for you, but rock-star whining (coupled with slams on the callous music industry) is hardly a narrative hat worth hanging a film on, a troublesome set of circumstances once the story barrels past its dutiful filthy centerpieces and realizes it has to justify its existence via a message. Stoller would have been wise leaving the proceedings light and superficial, the better to not bog his humor down with leaden moralizing about the self-inflicted pitfalls of enjoying fame and fortune to excess.
Empathy for Aldous is in short supply and, fundamentally, anathema to enjoying his bad-boy shenanigans, but Stoller—following in Apatow’s footsteps—can’t simply indulge in nastiness for nastiness’ sake, as the director proves driven to steer the action toward feel-good conservative platitudes about maturity, sobriety, and the preeminence of monogamy. Before getting to that anti-one-night-stand stance, the film must first revel in Aldous’s lothario ways and generate humor from Aaron’s attempts at machismo as well as predictably unflattering depictions of women. Yet ultimately, porn-style sexscapades (including an awkward climactic threesome) must be depicted as unpleasant and gross, and thus in stark contrast to the contented bliss of faithful romantic relationships.
Mind you, the film’s problem isn’t necessarily its message; it’s the way such easy-bake sermonizing, handled with a dull touch, reveals the phoniness of the story’s have-it-both-ways strategy, one in which we’re asked to enjoy naughtiness but also tsk-tsk its wrongheadedness. To burden lighthearted fluff with condemnations of obviously unwise behavior is to spoil any sense of raucous verve, of which there is quite a bit during the adventure’s first two-thirds, even if too much of it involves familiar jokes based around drug use, unfunny rock song lyrics, and sticking things up men’s asses. There’s no genius to the two headliners’ characterizations, and Brand’s dim-witted narcotized routine grows more wearisome by the day.
Nonetheless, he and Hill are a reasonably well-mismatched couple, the former alternately drowsy and manic and the latter self-conscious and yet sharp enough to fire a cutting retort at would-be antagonists. Though still not as funny as his reality-show act on Making the Band, P. Diddy’s performance energizes a dope-a-thon gone wrong in a Vegas penthouse, and if nothing else, lends another slightly varied voice to the proceedings’ capable comedic chorus. Neither it nor a healthy collection of random one-liners, however, can compensate for material that operates like a booze bender—alternately funny and depressing in the moment, and barely memorable the morning after.