Reprising his successful “Knocked Up” formula of uninhibited bawdiness and chick-flick sweetness, with side orders of slapstick and showbiz satire, producer Judd Apatow looks to have scored another long-legged hit with “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Crowd-pleasing confection sees the comedy auteur once again hooking up with fellow vets of cult-fave teleseries “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared” — including, in this case, director Nick Stoller and scripter-star Jason Segel — who are perfectly in sync with his snarky romantic-comedy sensibilities. Result is a film that, like “Knocked Up,” should generate repeat biz among ticketbuyers and memorable homevid sales and rentals.
Peter Bretter (Segel), a beefy teddy bear with a sensitive streak and a slackerish attitude, is a genial underachiever who composes incidental music for a TV crime show toplining his beautiful girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). He’s used to living in her shadow — he holds her purse at premieres and photo shoots — but he’s unshakably certain of her love. So he’s devastated when she ends their affair and takes up with Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), a slinky, self-absorbed Brit rocker.
Peter tries to lift himself out of his funk by flying to Hawaii for an improvised vacation. Unfortunately, he checks into the very same resort where Sarah and Aldous are enjoying a lusty holiday. Throughout the ensuing awkwardness of his extended stay, Peter gets emotional support — among other things — from Rachael (an attention-grabbing Mila Kunis), a hotel desk clerk recovering from her own heartbreak.
Peter also interacts with characters amusingly played by members of what might be called the Apatow Repertory Company: a genially dazed surfing instructor (Paul Rudd) and a starstruck waiter and would-be musician (Jonah Hill) who’s desperately eager for Aldous to hear his audition CD. The rocker’s lazily dismissive response to the latter will likely be the pic’s most-quoted line.
There’s lots of other funny stuff — withering put-downs, nifty non sequiturs, seriocomic ravings, wisecracks that range from snappy to snappish — in Segel’s casually structured screenplay. Stoller, making his feature helming debut, keeps the pace mostly brisk, but he’s also attentive to character development, particularly with two figures who, in similar comedies, might come off as entirely unlikeable.
Aldous may be suffused by his sense of entitlement, but he’s arguably the most honest and self-aware person on screen, and Brand’s performance is marvelously droll and controlled. Bell (late of TV’s “Veronica Mars”) executes an equally deft juggling act, so that Sarah often comes across as simultaneously treacherous and vulnerable. William Baldwin and Jason Bateman offer clever cameos as Sarah’s co-stars in wink-wink parodies of primetime crime shows.
Segel makes an engaging impression throughout “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” gamely making himself the butt of many jokes that involve Peter’s non-macho proclivities. (To paraphrase the old Four Seasons song: Big boys docry.) And in a bold move that bespeaks dedication to art or pride of possession (or both), Segel does the full monty no less than twice, in matter-of-fact raunchy scenes that gleefully push at the limits of R-rated acceptability.
Russ T. Alsobrook’s attractive lensing of Hawaiian locales and Leesa Evans’ witty costume design add to the pic’s overall appeal.