In Get Him to the Greek, actor Jonah Hill, always a supporting player or co-star in so many other Judd Apatow comedies (Knocked Up, Funny People, Superbad), finally gets his starring role. He was funnier on the sidelines. Playing Aaron, a low-ranking record company executive assigned by his boss (Sean Combs) to make sure the reckless rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) is onstage when the curtain rises on his comeback concert, Hill essentially plays the straight-man role, and he suffers and sweats magnificently.
Snow is a British rocker whose career went into the toilet after a stunningly ill-conceived music video, but he’s still partying and carrying on like Mick Jagger in 1969. Getting him from London to L.A. in three days will be a Herculean task, involving lots of vomiting, drugs and sex.
A brash and raunchy take on 1982’s My Favorite Year (in which a lowly writer was assigned to make sure a drunk Peter O’Toole showed up for a live TV appearance), Get Him to the Greek marks somewhat of a departure for producer Apatow and writer-director Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), favoring gross-out antics and wild, surreal excursions into nightclubs that make South Beach look like Dollywood. The volume is pitched high, perhaps so you won’t notice how lackadaisically structured the picture is. Get Him to the Greek isn’t really a story but a collection of comic set pieces — as if Apatow were atoning for his emphasis on character in Funny People, which no one seemed to like.
Brand, a British comedian who has been edging his way into American movies (he’s playing the same character here he played in Sarah Marshall), is OK in small doses, but he’s not charismatic or funny enough to carry a movie: You tire of Snow and his antics quickly. Hill is better as the exasperated underling, but he’s outshone by a surprisingly funny Combs, who brings a shading of pragmatism to his portrayal of the record-label chief who cares about nothing but the bottom line.
Get Him to the Greek has some big laughs, and it scores an endless source of points by skewering the rock-star lifestyle. The movie gets a little too sentimental for its own good in the last half-hour — Stoller doesn’t know how to leaven humor with drama gently, the way Apatow does — but the harm isn’t fatal. The picture is crude, slight and lingers in your memory about as long as a waft of bong smoke. The way this summer movie season is going, though, even the least bit of substance is enough to make a film feel like Citizen Kane.
Cast: Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Elisabeth Moss, Rose Byrne, Sean Combs, Colm Meany.
Writer-director: Nicholas Stoller.
Producers: Judd Apatow, Nicholas Stoller, David Bushell.
A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 105 minutes. Vulgar language, nudity, sexual situations, drug use, naughty rock-star behavior.