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Digging the Greek

June 29, 2010
Get Him to the Greek

Jonah Hill (L) and Russell Brand (R) are chased by Sean Combs (C) in one of the more nonsensical sequences in Get Him to the Greek. 'This is the longest hallway!' shouts Hill. 'It's Kubrickian,' replies Brand.

I’m a sucker for a perfectly tuned pop culture parody. Tropic Thunder opened with a series of sublimely hilarious movie trailers, and I was hooked—despite the rest of the film being a somewhat erratic, and occasionally obnoxious (Tom Cruise as Les Grossman, anyone?), action-comedy. Which is why I fell for Nicholas Stoller’s new generically Apatow-ian comedy, Get Him to the Greek.

Get Him to the Greek opens with a video for “African Child” by Aldous Snow. Snow is played by Russell Brand, in a reprise of the narcissistic British rock star he played in Stoller’s and Jason Segal’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Snow is not far removed from the stage persona known as “Russell Brand,” who by all appearances, is not far removed from the real human being called “Russell Brand.” Not a stretch, but no matter. Breezily walking through the streets of a war-torn African city, Snow sings “All these blowjobs in limousines/What do they matter/What do they mean/To the little African child/Trapped inside of me,” as child soldiers murder each other in the background. In interviews on the set, Snow denies seeing himself as a “white Christ figure from outer space.” He leaves that judgment to other people, who are perfectly entitled to see him that way. Yup. I’m sold.

“African Child” turns out to be a turning point in Snow’s career. The song is a misguided bomb. Rolling Stone names it the third worst thing to happen to Africa after war and famine. His career (and ego) critically wounded, Snow falls into a funk, breaking up with his soulmate of seven years, pop savant Jennie Q (a spectacularly seductive Rose Byrne), and returning to the drinking, drugging and boinking of his youth. As a faux-musician, Brand sounds remarkably like Oasis, with enough fucking and fighting for both Gallagher brothers.

Fast forward a few years and a few thousand miles to L.A., where Aaron Green is a low-level music exec. Jonah Hill plays Green, and here he is as sweet and deferential as he was rude and pushy in Superbad. I’m still a bit shocked that Hill has range, but someone had to play the straight man. Even more shocking is Green’s girlfriend, a med student played by the lovely Elizabeth Moss (Peggy from Mad Men), who Green justifiably adores (despite her ignorance about the Mars Volta). At work, Sean Combs (good lines, bad comic acting) is Green’s impossible boss who demands some new ideas to save his struggling record label. Green convinces him that a comeback show by Snow, shown on pay-per-view, could revive the label’s sagging fortunes. There’s a catch of course, the kind that only makes sense in a Hollywood film script: Green must go to London and personally escort Snow for the show in L.A. in a week.

Their adventures detour them through New York and Las Vegas, with many missed flights and bacchanalian drug-assisted orgies along the way. The nastiest parts of the parties are mostly handled via montage, an efficient way of stuffing numerous shots of Hill pissing, puking and (I think but I hope I didn’t see) defecating into 20-second intervals. This may sound disgusting, but you’d be surprised how funny it is to see Hill talk to Meredith Viera unaware that he has vomit on his lapel. Like Chris Farley before him, Hill knows few things are more reliably amusing than a large man humiliating himself. Brand somehow manages to make an arrogant, intelligent Brit faintly charming, which probably has something to do with his aura of intense self-loathing. “I used to worry about so many things,” Snow tells Green. “Now I just worry about drugs.”

Like Apatow’s screenplays, Stoller’s script is smart and sophomoric in equal measure. The targets are easy and predictable—the music business, celebrity culture, rectums, Lars Ulrich—but the jokes mostly hit their marks. Even though you know where it’s all going (and quite often know the punchlines) Stoller’s fast-paced direction and his stars’ gameness keep the simple story moving. We’re as invested in getting Snow to the Greek Theater as Green is, even if we don’t give a whit what Snow does once he gets there.

The one atypical aspect of this very typical comedy is the surprisingly weak chemistry between Hill and Brand, and the surprisingly great chemistry between the leads and their girlfriends. In a few precise sweet and sour scenes, one gets the sense that the two couples have been together for a long time and probably are perfectly matched. This apparent weakness ends up a strength, as it provides a legitimately compelling competing narrative to the boys’ hedonistic, nihilistic adventures. When the film takes it regrettable and cloying turn into a comedy of remarriage in the final act, we at least have a rooting interest in the couples’ reuniting. At the minimum the ending offers Brand the opportunity to deliver one of the film’s best lines while proposing a ménage a trios with Green and his girl. “Don’t think of it as a threesome,” he says. “Think of it as you having sex with your girlfriend, while someone else is having sex with your girlfriend.”

That kind of absurdist logic also applies to the film, which is funny in spite of its canned casting, predictable plot and constant retreat into potty humor. Don’t think of Get Him to the Greek as just another gross-out movie. Think of it as a good gross-out movie… that is just like all the other gross-out movies.

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