Movies: Get Him To Greek * * * *
In this part of the world, Russell Brand is the kind of contentious media personage you're expected to have an opinion about. But in America, they're still getting used to him, and overall he seems to be going down pretty well.
A lot of comics lose their way when they attempt to cross over into movies, but Brand has shown considerable promise in his fledgling film career. After a dodgy start playing Flash Harry in the dreadful St Trinian's remake, he won wide praise for his portrayal of flamboyant rock star Aldous Snow in Nicholas Stoller's clever 2008 romcom Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Stoller and Brand reprise Aldous for the purposes of this more ambitious road comedy set in London, New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Judd Apatow regular Jonah Hill (Apatow co-produces, by the way, and his pawprints are all over this film) co-stars as Aaron Green, a rather starry-eyed young executive at a music company run by the tyrannical and foul-mouthed Sergio Roma (Sean 'Puffy' Combs). Pinnacle Records has run out of capital, so Sergio calls his team together and tells them to come with money-making ideas fast.
Aaron pipes up to suggest a televised concert at LA's Greek Theater that might revive the career and selling power of rock legend Snow. Snow has just released a stinker of an album called African Child, and has gone off the rails after being left by his longtime companion Jackie Q (Rose Byrne). But Snow was once a huge earner for Pinnacle, and Aaron believes he could be again.
The trouble with coming up with a bright idea is that you usually get saddled with making it happen. Aaron is dispatched forthwith to London with strict instructions to locate Mr Snow and escort him first to New York for a TV appearance, and thence to LA for the career-reviving concert. But when Aaron arrives in Blighty, he soon finds himself way out of his depth.
For Aldous is a charming but extremely devious addict, who will entice Aaron into his chaotically hedonistic lifestyle and foil every attempt to deliver him to LA in good order. Aldous will even compromise Aaron's relationship with his girlfriend Daphne (Elizabeth Moss in Mad Men), as well as involving him in various high jinks and several actual felonies.
After starting slowly with perhaps a little too much scene-setting and a couple of joke songs that might have been funnier, Get Him to the Greek comes into its own as soon as Hill and Brand are brought together. Despite coming from radically different comedy backgrounds, the pair make a surprisingly winning double act: Brand is tall, Hill short and dumpy, and they seem to have the kind of intuitive understanding that makes for comic dream teams.
Hill is a very talented performer, and does a lot of fine, unfussy work here, operating as Brand's foil but also capable of taking comic centre stage himself. He and Brand seem to be ad-libbing at certain points, and if they were I have no complaints.
There are nice turns, too, from Rose Byrne (of Damages), who distorts her refined beauty into a superstar caricature that may or may not have been inspired by Victoria Beckham. While rather oddly cast as Aldous Snow's father (the familial resemblance being moot), Colm Meaney does a pretty good job overall, and plays a significant role in the film's funniest scene.
Sean Combs has fun sending up the music business, and Elizabeth Moss does well in a rather limited role. As for Brand, he gleefully takes the rise out of his high-living, lady-killing persona, and when he makes jokes about sex and drugs and rock and roll you're inclined to believe he knows what he's talking about.
In fairness, though, there's a bit more to his performance than that. He doesn't spend the whole time pulling faces and shouting, and manages to draw enough of a picture of the lonely man behind the rock star image to make this more than just a slapstick chase movie.