I get why the concept of a "spin-off" movie like Get Him to the Greek seems like a no-brainer—in theory. If you look at television, there's a history of taking supporting characters from successful comedies and launching them into equally successful starring vehicles like "The Jeffersons" from "All in the Family," "Rhoda" from "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Frasier" from "Cheers." (We'll conveniently ignore "AfterMASH" and "Joey.") Over time, those supporting characters develop their own particular identities within the original show, and taking those identities to a bigger showcase isn't a huge leap of logic.
But it's not the same with movies. A scene-stealing supporting comedic character often works precisely because there isn't any attempt to give him or her more depth or context. The character exists to steal a few scenes with superficial laughs, and nothing more. That's why there was no reason for Bronson Pichot to star in Serge: The Motion Picture after Beverly Hills Cop, and that's why taking Steve Carrell's blundering anchorman from Bruce Almighty and making him the hero of Evan Almighty resulted in an almighty stink-pile.
Yet here we have a showcase vehicle for Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), the vain, addle-brained British rock star who became the new boyfriend to Jason Segel's TV-star ex-girlfriend in 2008's Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Here, he's licking his wounds after his most recent record—an earnest-yet-offensive piece of social commentary called African Child—has become a critical and commercial flop. But a low-level music industry functionary named Aaron (Jonah Hill) has a notion that Snow can mount a comeback through a concert at Los Angeles' legendary Greek Theater commemorating the 10th anniversary of a landmark live album by Snow's band, Infant Sorrow. All Aaron needs to do is squire Snow from London, to a "Today" show appearance in New York, and then to the concert in L.A., all in 72 hours—a far-from-easy task given Snow's fondness for altering his consciousness.
Please try to forget that Hill was also in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, playing a completely different character even though it would have made perfect sense to give his Hawaiian maitre'd with a huge Aldous Snow man-crush a new job. Aaron's a thinly drawn character as it is, a guy who has a big fight with his live-in girlfriend, Daphne (Elizabeth Moss of "Mad Men"), just before launching a weekend of probable debauchery. Hill, fortunately, is about as innately funny as any movie comedian currently working, brilliant both when he's freaking out in a Vegas hotel room on a multi-drug cocktail, or trying to maintain his dignity in a sports coat covered in his own vomit.
But writer/director Nicholas Stoller (also returning from Sarah Marshall), just like his mentor Judd Apatow, wants to make sure there's an emotionally resonant subtext to all the craziness. That's frustrating enough when it's just Aaron's possible reconciliation with Daphne sucking up screen time; it's borderline inexcusable when it's also part of an attempt to "humanize" Aldous Snow. Brand is terrifically entertaining when he's simply wallowing in Snow's oblivious swagger, like an even more diva-fied member of Spinal Tap—which is exactly what made him funny in Sarah Marshall. Turning his intoxicated excesses into a reaction to his break-up with a long-time girlfriend (Rose Byrne), and having him question the emptiness of his lifestyle, seems to miss the point of Snow's appeal entirely. He's supposed to be a shallow mess of a human being, not a wounded and multi-faceted sad clown. Complexity can only make the character less entertaining.
Unfortunately, that's what has to happen when you take the guy who was the unapologetic comic relief and try to wrap an entire narrative around him. In Get Him to the Greek, there's a surprisingly hilarious part for Sean "Whatever the Hell Nickname He's Using These Days" Combs as Aaron's tough-minded boss Sergio—who also, in a hallucination sequence, gets to eat a tiny version of his own head. In small doses, it's a great character—but that doesn't mean I want to be staring at a Sergio feature in 2012.
Get Him to the Greek is a package of sometimes satisfying gags built on a completely faulty premise: that everything that was good in small quantities must be better in larger quantities
Get Him to the Greek opens at the Village 6 Friday, June 4.