“Get Him to the Greek” — Meanwhile, Back at the Raunch

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By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

Nebbishes, fools and dreamers thrive in producer Judd Apatow’s generally raunchy comedies with a heart. Which is as it should be, if you ask Messrs Chaplin, Keaton and Allen. And in director Nicholas Stoller’s “Get Him to the Greek” it’s record company wonk Aaron Green’s turn. Played by Jonah Hill, he dared speak up at a meeting.

Suddenly, in this fantastically frenetic dramatization of that oft-voiced admonition, “Be careful what you wish for,” it is Aaron’s moment. In the stuff that fantasies are made of, something had to give. His love affair with roommate Dr. Daphne Binks had gone to seed. And until now his suggestions at Sergio’s Pinnacle Records have borne little fruit.

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Finally, he’s in the right place at the right time. We celebrate the concept as much as the personal triumph. But there’s that echoing caveat. The portent comes when slick Sergio, superbly emoted by Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs, initially nixes Aaron’s inspiration with totally vulgar relish, only to have an abrupt change of heart. Let the mind games begin.

The idea? Stage British rock star Aldous Snow’s (Russell Brand) 10-year anniversary concert at the Greek Theater in L.A.…residuals, DVDs, and all that other music biz speak to be hugely shared by Pinnacle. In a less charitable scenario, martinet Sergio would have glommed it all for himself. But what fun is it if you can’t make an underling squirm?

So OK, he tells Aaron. It’s his baby. He is to cross the Atlantic, bag one out-of-control, druggie rock star, fly him to the U.S. for all pre-concert interviews and promo functions, and then deliver him intact to the Greek in reasonably sober condition and ready to perform. Little does our guy know it will require his every ounce of energy and being.

Director-writer Stoller’s idea, while no great inspiration, is an astute contemporization of several show business chestnuts, with the bulk of its impetus reminiscent of “My Favorite Year” (1982). The observer, generally an unutilized young Turk on the make or a Nick to the movie’s scandalous Gatsby, gets to divine all sorts of life lessons via the odyssey.

Ironically, this is the very circumstance in which overweight and perennially startled Jonah Hill finds himself. While rising in stature over his last several stints in the Sandler-Apatow-Rogen-Segel film connection, he plays a full protagonist’s minutes in this one. Only mildly surprising, he sustains comedy and character with feature length aplomb.

More unexpected, he’s able to endow would-be record mogul Green with a serious dimension credible enough to thread a touching bit of soul through the often sidesplitting, free-for-all farce that erupts. He is aided and abetted by a script ripe with several different comic forms and at least three fine supporting performances.

Russell Brand is nothing less than uproarious as Green’s rock legend charge. Split from Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), the other half of his tabloid emblazing, notoriously naughty duo, Aldous Snow’s self destructive ways have scaled to an all time high, literally. Yet despite the outrageous stereotype, Brand, too, leaves room for thoughtful assessment.

Equally effective, Mr. Combs’s characterization of the studio honcho speaks nerve-jarring volumes about why some despotic personalities are happy only when they’re plying their bullying ways. Expect no overriding, humanitarian qualities here…only reaffirmation of this hilariously sad, workplace fact.

Offering less scope but nonetheless important as a type the Rock ‘n’ Roll milieu just couldn’t do without is Rose Byrne’s glorified groupie-become-diva. The quintessence of superficiality, her Jackie Q represents a bizarre version of Dulcinea to Aldous’s aberrant Don Quixote. That they have an adolescent boy in common ups the emotional ante.

Supplying added heft to the lunacy through subtexts their roles provide, Dinah Stabb and Colm Meaney as Aldous’s Mum ‘n’ Dad, respectively, drolly suggest why their superstar son has turned out the way he has. Mr. Snow is a sodden, know-it-all sideman in Vegas; Her Upper Crustiness keeps the Brit home fires burning in case sonny boy needs them.

Apparently, the unsparing use of four-lettered favorites played no small part in the upbringing of their hyper-spoiled music prodigy. Thus know full well that the movie’s R rating is quite earned and then some. This includes the rather ribald lyrics of the often catchy tunes comprising the singer’s body of work, as well as several really edgy scenes.

It’s the same established formula we’ve seen in “Superbad” (2007), “Pineapple Express” (2008), “I Love You, Man”(2009), etc., etc. And though the cineaste might wonder if the affiliated bunch of raunch hands will eventually mosey over to something a tad headier, as they “Get Him to the Greek” their filmic GPS still manages to find our funny bone.

“Get Him to the Greek,” rated R, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Nicholas Stoller and stars Jonah Hill, Russell Brand and Rose Byrne. Running time: 109 minutes


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