There’s a lot of bad behavior going down in the new raunch comedy “Get Him to the Greek,” and I’m not even talking about Russell Brand’s off-the-wagon rock renegade who requires 24-hour minding from Jonah Hill’s nebbishy record-label flunky either.
The seriously out-of-control hard R dude is writer-director Nicholas Stoller, who apparently has major trust issues with his odd-couple stars, women and the audience. Did I forget anybody?
It’s too bad too, because there are both very funny and surprisingly compelling narrative themes running through the film that would have worked even better if — and get ready, there are a lot of ifs — (a) the " F-bombs” were occasional rather than unrelenting, (b) “Mad Men’s” talented Elisabeth Moss wasn’t completely misused, (c) there was far less projectile vomiting, (d) there were fewer “objects” shoved up Hill’s bum and (e) the masochistic misogyny had been shelved entirely.
The premise is a simple one: Unreliable rocker Aldous Snow (Brand) has 72 hours to get from London to the Greek Theatre in L.A. for a 10-year-anniversary gig designed to recharge his career and his record label. Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Sergio is in charge of the record business with Hill’s Aaron Green, the innocent sent abroad to make sure Aldous makes it to L.A. Mayhem ensues.
Aldous first turned up as one of the funniest bits in 2008’s " Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” also directed by Stoller. And though “Greek” is not a sequel in the traditional sense, Brand’s character is a replica of his seven-years-sober rock star who stole Sarah’s heart. Meanwhile, Hill’s Snow-adoring waiter has been given a new life entirely and a career upgrade to rock industry intern, though considering the music business’ flagging fortunes I’m not sure it would pay any more. ( Kristen Bell was Sarah and returns in “Greek” as one of the best in a string of cameos the movie throws in as sight gags.)
In Brand’s case, looks are, if not everything, then a lot. Between the prowl and bizarre body lines that echo Mick Jagger and an introspective comic irony a la Bill Murray, Brand is seductive to watch as he vamps his way across the various stages here, both public and private, working the hair-tossing insouciant artist thing to excellent effect. But amid the laughs, and there are plenty, the actor brings an unexpected authenticity to Aldous’ struggle with sobriety, fame, his parasitic parents and the loss of the love of his life, Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), who’s taken their son and left.
Hill, like the film itself, takes awhile to get warmed up. The brainstorming session in which Aaron first offers up the Greek idea is as much as anything a forum to let Combs play a foul-mouthed record mogul, which is funny for about three seconds before it just gets tedious. Aaron’s ball-and-chain is Moss’ Daphne, a medical student whose desire for a normal life is dragging him down.
Moss is basically asked to be serious and seriously grating, and soon their nonrelationship is on the skids for reasons that really don’t matter. At least not to Stoller, who’s interested only in the chance to go crazy with the makeup sex, turning it into a threesome with Aldous that is so out of character for the bit of character Moss has been given it’s just uncomfortable to watch.
There are other badly played voyeuristic moments — more of the attack brand of comedy than the self-inflicted fun found in “The Hangover,” last year’s summer sensation — that I’m betting will be too much even for the adolescent gross-out side of the male cerebral cortex the film is squarely aimed at. There is a particularly egregious rape scene that involves a humiliated Aaron — can’t we just agree going forward that no matter who the victim is, rape jokes never work?
Hill brings his inner nerd to the party again, only a slight variation on the character that he was doing long before his “Superbad” breakout in 2007. Still he is much funnier playing the ugly duckling downing bottles of Jack Daniel’s to keep his rock star on track than the romantic foil.
It’s a regrettable characteristic of nearly all of the films with the Judd Apatow imprint (he’s a producer on the film and Stoller has been part of his comedy brat pack since the “Undeclared” days when both the girls and the comedy were sweeter) that the only women around are women men love to hate, and “Greek” is no exception. To a woman, they are too emotionally thin to resonate with any measure of reality and all come with a castrating mean streak that seems a prerequisite. You’d think the boys would use some of the bundles of money they make on the films for some therapy.