Russell Brand is such a singular personage that it took me a long while to realize that, in Get Him to the Greek, he is reprising the hilariously narcissistic pop star character he pioneered in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. In fact, until Sarah Marshall herself made a cameo appearance, I thought that Brand was simply doing his gangly, oblivious, exhibitionistic, oddly salamander-like thing. The character, who begins the film by writhing through a staged African war zone wearing a sarong (it’s the music video for his disastrous new single “African Child”), fits the English comedian like a glove. Russell Brand may never be able to escape Aldous Snow.
Brand rampages like the unchecked id through Get Him to the Greek, which is best described as a lovable train wreck. Often very funny, but with no sense of pacing and a disappointing hit-to-miss joke ratio (as a corollary, it’s at least 20 minutes too long), the movie isn’t good, exactly, but it’s difficult to resist. If you’ve indulged some of producer Judd Apatow’s more ponderous efforts, like Pineapple Express and Funny People, you already know what to expect.
Apatow stalwart Jonah Hill stars opposite Brand as the up-and-coming record label flak tasked with transporting his idol Aldous Snow from London to Los Angeles for a cash cow anniversary concert. Snow is preoccupied with, among other things, his break-up with raunchy pop starlet Jackie Q (sample lyric: “boom boom, shake the room like a sodomite”), and is generally disinclined to get to the airport on time or arrive to gigs sober. Sternly instructed by his boss (Sean “P. Diddy” Combs) to get Aldous Snow to the Greek on time and in one piece, Hill’s hapless Aaron Green becomes increasingly stressed as the prospect starts to seem increasingly unlikely.
Like most products of the Apatow factory, Get Him to the Greek is mostly a delirious mishmash of somewhat erudite verbal comedy and pop culture send-ups. Jonah Hill is one of the very best at the former, having honed a unique brand of articulate incredulity — when his girlfriend informs him that they are moving to Seattle for her plum medical residency, Aaron, stunned at not having been consulted, deadpans: “Just as a side note, I had an idea — you’re moving to Africa.” It’s an obvious joke, but its construction (“just as a side note” is key) and Hill’s delivery make it perfect. As for offbeat pop culture references, Greek goes balls out, featuring as-themselves cameos by — ready? — Christina Aguilera, Lars Ulrich, Mario Lopez, Pink, Tom Felton, and Paul Krugman (yes, that one).
Surprisingly, the movie also occasionally produces a gag in the classical situation-comedy style — something Mel Brooks or Billy Wilder might not have been ashamed to use. There’s a one brilliantly simple joke that spins out the logical intersection of Aaron’s mission to get Snow to his appointments on time and conscious, and Snow’s penchant to consume as many mind-altering substances as possible in a short amount of time. What’s Aaron to do when Snow pulls out a flask and makes to take a swig? Well, the most obvious thing — to riotous results.
Still, like Forgetting Sarah Marshall before it, Get Him to the Greek‘s screenplay could have used a critical once-over with a red pen, and the editing room could have used someone a bit more snip-happy. For every great joke, there’s one that spins its wheels for far too long before petering out with a decidedly unworthy punchline. (There’s a long conversation between Jonah Hill and P. Diddy involving “mindfucking” that’s simply painful.) Entire sequences, such as a prominent one involving a furry wall, build up a lot of kinetic energy but no comic momentum. The movie is long — nearly two hours — and it feels long; the laughs are often distressingly far apart.
I’m not really sure where the stars, or director Nicholas Stoller, go from here. They’ve delivered a movie entirely in character, and it’s pretty good, though everyone involved has done better. There are no surprises here, but Russell Brand is a force of nature, Jonah Hill is a funny guy, and Get Him to the Greek is entertaining enough — and fitfully killer.