With his record company in the doldrums, ambitious junior exec Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) has a brainwave get washed-up, boozehound rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) to recreate his sell-out show at the Greek Theatre in LA. Thats the easy part. Getti
Althought the end result was, aptly, somewhat forgettable, two things stood out about Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Thankfully, despite repeated exposure, neither of them was Jason Segel’s penis. Instead, the sparky love interest, Mila Kunis, and Russell Brand’s hedonistic singer, Aldous Snow, caught the eye.
So much so in the case of the latter that here we are, just two years later, with Get Him To The Greek, a semi-sequel (the word ‘spin-off’ has been studiously avoided in marketing materials, perhaps for fear of invoking too many Evan Almighty comparisons) that boosts Brand from supersub status to star striker and, somewhat confusingly, throws Jonah Hill into the mix, not as his Sarah Marshall character, a Hawaiian waiter who happens to be an Aldous Snow superfan, but as an entirely different character: a junior record exec who... happens to be an Aldous Snow superfan.
That baffling detail aside, it’s Hill, as the dependable, down-to-earth Aaron, who grounds the proceedings, allowing Brand, in theory, to go nuts as the fickle, febrile Aldous, a charismatic, charming but dangerously cavalier cross between Liam Gallagher, Mick Jagger and, well, Russell Brand. The set-up is classic, the stage set for a mismatched buddy comedy that should be a music equivalent of Midnight Run meets My Favourite Year, the classic Richard Benjamin comedy about a greenhorn who has to babysit his idol — a hard-drinking Errol Flynn type — that is virtually the template for this. And, while Get Him To The Greek is often filthily funny, it’s also patchy and incoherent and smacks of a missed opportunity. Most of which can be laid at the door, not of Brand, who’s fine in his first lead role, but of Aldous Snow.
It’s not exactly a scoop, but most rock stars are blithering, egotistical, self-obsessed twats — and Snow is no exception. When we first meet him, he’s a self-absorbed Sting-like figure, banging on about world peace, drawing Messianic comparisons (“That’s for other people to say, if they think I’m a space Jesus”) and staying off the wagon with his pop star girlfriend, Jackie Q (a nearly unrecognisable Rose Byrne, sporting an ace London dilettante accent and hitherto untapped comic timing).
But when Snow’s career goes south, along with Jackie Q, he clambers back on the booze bus, snorting anything that can go up his nose, and shagging anything that can’t. It’s classic rock star behaviour and, when Aaron first hooks up with Snow, there is genuine comic potential there, mined well in the early London scenes as Snow leads Aaron — who believes he’s on a break from a relationship with his steady Eddie nurse girlfriend — off the road and onto the moor. Another scene, where Snow invites Aaron to critique his recent work, only to hear an all-too-honest appraisal, is also excellent, benefiting from Brand’s ability to veer off in unexpected emotional directions at the flip of a switch. Nice one second; narcissistic and nasty the next — classic rock star behaviour.
But writer/director Nicholas Stoller — who directed Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Segel, who wrote that movie, has no involvement beyond a co-producer credit) — and Brand nail that side of Snow so well that, after a certain point, his arbitrary, self-hating, contrarian wild-man act simply isn’t fun to hang with, whether he’s pathetically beseeching Jackie Q for phone sex while she sleeps next to her new lover, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich (possibly the only cameo, in a film stuffed with them, that works, with Ulrich not only proving a good sport, but providing the impetus for the film’s best line); or yelling for smack like a petulant child; or forcing Aaron and his girlfriend into an unusual form of relationship therapy that can’t — and doesn’t — end well.
Drama is not always the death of comedy, of course, as Judd Apatow — who produces here — has shown with his increasingly mature directorial efforts, most recently Funny People. But Stoller is no Judd Apatow, mishandling the tone of the movie so brutally that it’s hard for the comedy to escape from the cul-de-sacs he constantly leads Snow and Aaron down, as he tries to lend depth to what should have been a fairly simple buddy comedy with a succession of scenes that try to explain why Aldous Snow is a complete prat. This is, of course, par for the course for a spin-off... sorry, semi-sequel, as meat has to be put on the bones of a character who was little more than a cipher last time around. But in doing so, Stoller loses sight of much of the devil-may-care attitude that makes Snow — and, it has to be said, Brand off screen — so alluring.
There’s a lack of stylistic tics — save for a few shots that indicate that Stoller is a big fan of the Mean Streets scene where Scorsese attached a camera to a drunk Harvey Keitel — too that limit a film that should, by its very subject-matter, be drenched in flashy visuals, like a 100-minute music video. Too often Snow’s debauchery dribbles away into dullness. Oh, and the songs are rubbish, stranded in a hinterland between trying to be catchy enough to show why Snow is such a big noise, and funny enough to make you laugh. In the end, they’re neither — it’s like listening to Robbie Williams do a show composed entirely of Victoria Wood tunes.
But there are three little stars at the end of this review, and Get Him To The Greek has more than enough bright spots to earn them. When he’s not playing the petulant prick, Brand displays a winning ability to seem completely real, and he’s at his funniest whenever Snow is being horrendously pretentious or incandescent with mock rage. Hill, meanwhile, is the perfect foil, a naturally funny and immensely likable guy smart enough to take a role that seems relatively straightforward, but who also recognises the scope to milk humour from the various stages of being pissed, stoned, anally violated, terrified and completely Geoffreyed (you’ll see...). It’s a neat combination of straight man and wacky sidekick — and Hill captures Aaron’s growing frustration with Snow perfectly. And, even if some scenes start out promisingly and don’t quite get to the announced destination, there’s still some cracking set-pieces that deliver nicely on the belly-laugh front, most notably the Vegas segment in which most of, if not all of the above, happens to Hill. It’s also home to the film’s best throwaway gag — a Kubrick reference that should bring down any house or hotel.
But the movie, in reality, belongs to a surprising source: Sean Combs. The man formerly known as Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Puffy and other names far too numerous, and silly to list here is no stranger to acting, but he has been, throughout a terribly pompous career, a stranger to comedy. Not anymore. His turn as record label boss Sergio Roma is an unexpected compendium of dead-eyed comedic threats, bizarre non sequiturs (“You ever been mindfucked? Can you feel my dick... fucking your mind?”) and sudden gear-shifts into demented psychosis which makes him feel almost like a Noughties version of Ray Liotta in Something Wild. He’s so good, in fact, that we wouldn’t mind seeing more of him. Spin-off, anyone?
Like most of the recent exports from Apatown, Get Him To The Greek aka Russell Brands My Filmy Wilm is patchy, but home-run hilarious from time to time. If only it didnt detour into darkness so often, this could have been a genuine treat.