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There’s another unnatural birth in Get Him to the Greek, the filmic spinoff of 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall whose awful title might as well be Tolerating Aldous Snow. Like the older movie, Greek opens with a video from rock star Aldous (Russell Brand). And like Splice, the video features a bundle of weird that’s wrong on a couple of levels. One is the youngster referred to in Aldous’ disastrous and offensive single “African Child.” The second is that the babe slides out of the loins of the man himself.
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So many jokes and visual gags are packed into these first few minutes of writer-director Nicholas Stoller’s double-threat debut (he wrote for Fun With Dick and Jane and Yes Man and helmed Marshall) that it can get difficult to catch them all. Besides the ridiculousness of the video, there are Aldous’ sound bites about the song, saying that his inspiration was outrage over the war in “Dafur or Zimbabwe or Rwanda or somewhere” and that he wished to portray himself as an “African White Christ…from space.” Not surprisingly, the record isn’t a critical or fan favorite, with one review headlined, “African Child Worst Thing for Africa Since Apartheid.” It also doesn’t help his relationship with the about-to-blow-up Jackie Q (Rose Byrne disguised as an Isla Fisher type), a Brit pop tart who waits until a joint TV interview to tell Aldous that she finds their seven years of sobriety “boring” while obliviously showing her nethers Basic Instinct-style.
But this Judd Apatow joint is about Aldous’ comeback, specifically an initially unpopular idea by desperate record-company pawn Aaron (Jonah Hill) to stage a tour to mark the 10-year anniversary of the singer’s Live at the Greek Theatre album. So Aaron’s boss (Sean Combs) dispatches him to London to subdue off-the-wagon Aldous and get him to L.A. in time for the first show. Naturally, Aaron can’t control Keith Richards’ younger, coke-fueled kindred spirit. Having just broken up with his sweet, homebody girlfriend (Elizabeth Moss), however, Aaron eventually allows himself to be shoved into the world of strippers and speed.
You’d think Apatow’s dick flicks would have gotten tired by now, but for those who like this strain of humor, Greek is another winner. Key to its success is Brand, who came off as straight-up obnoxious in Sarah Marshall but is appealing and raucously funny here. Hill’s turn as the straight man is a nice counter to his manic Superbad character, though Aaron’s awkwardness earns a fair share of laughs. The biggest surprises are Byrne, who’s cast against type as Aldous’ gorgeous, slutty, and entertaining ex, and Combs, who shows off a comic timing to rival Brand’s.
Many of the jokes are predictably sex- and drug-heavy, but Greek’s sharpest humor comes at the expense of the music industry—a cameo by a divisive drummer, for example, or a girl from a Pussycat Dolls cover band who claims, “My life is music.” And aside from two arguably borrowed bits (Bruno loved an African child first, and a proposed three-way recalls Chasing Amy), the shenanigans feel fresh. There are, of course, lessons about the Important Things in Life along the way, but whether you take ’em or leave ’em, you’ll still have fun on the ride.