04 June 2010

Get Him to the Greek

Jonah Hill, left, and Russell Brand are shown in a scene from "Get Him to the Greek."
The "him" of "Get Him to the Greek" is the fictional British rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), first seen two years ago in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." The "Greek" is the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, where Aldous and his band Infant Sorrow recorded one of the best-selling live albums of all time. Young record company suit Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) must bring Aldous there for a special 10-year anniversary performance.

The catch: Aldous, ardently sober when we last saw him, has fallen spectacularly off the wagon following the failure of his latest album, the hilariously tasteless "African Child," and his split from Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), his longtime girlfriend and mother of his son.

On strict orders from his boss, Sergio (Sean "P. Diddy" Combs), Aaron must retrieve Aldous from London, get him to New York for an appearance on the "Today" show, then take him to Los Angeles for his comeback concert. Aldous, though, is a drinking, drugging mess. It's like watching an episode of VH1's "Behind the Music" in the present tense as he leads Aaron, not to be confused with the character Hill played in "Sarah Marshall," from one party to the next, introducing him to a smorgasbord of substances.

In the midst of the madness and mayhem, something strange happens. A person emerges. A (relatively) complex person with real issues and motivation.

Though Aldous initially comes across as a buffoon, he's smarter than he seems, his actions calculated and not nearly as wild and carefree as they might appear. He is unapologetically hedonistic, but beneath the rock star image is a man driven by sadness and hurt.

More than anything else, Aldous is lonely, and he bonds with Aaron because, even though he's a stranger, he's all he has.

"Get Him to the Greek" is vulgar, funny and poignant—everything we have come to expect from a Judd Apatow production. But more credit must go to writer-director Nicholas Stoller (who also directed "Sarah Marshall") and Brand, for giving surprising depth to a potential caricature. Hill, too, does solid work, even if he's aping from Michael Cera to give Aaron his earnest, awkward persona. The biggest surprise is P. Diddy, who looks like he has a future in comedy.

The music also works. Sure, the lyrics are ridiculous but no more so than a lot of what you can hear on the radio today. And Brand plays the part of a rock god onstage as well he does off.

The movie tries a little too hard at times (seeing Hill's bare bottom is more stomach-turning than humorous) and comes dangerously close to trivializing the very real, very serious issue of drug addiction (heroin is among the substances Aldous abuses). For those reasons, I don't recommend it quite as enthusiastically as I have other Apatow productions, such as "Sarah Marshall," "Superbad" or "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." But when 2010 comes to an end, "Get Him to the Greek" is likely to be one of the year's best comedies.

Greg's Grade: B

(Rated R for strong sexual content and drug use throughout, and pervasive language. 109 minutes.)

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