How to lose friends and alienate audiences is the lesson taught by this cleverly titled but noxious British comedy about a Limey scribe trying to carve a notch for himself in the glam world of high-end New York publishing. Despite being based on the popular 2001 memoir of former Vanity Fair contributing editor Toby Young, “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” features a protag so uncouth and inept it’s impossible to believe he’d hold his job for more than a week. Producers may have been inspired by “The Devil Wears Prada” to think a male variation could cause B.O. lightning to strike twice, but it’s not going to happen, even if Simon Pegg’s presence rouses a certain interest, especially in the U.K.
The diminutive, blond-tressed Pegg, who cut a comic bigscreen swath in “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” is nothing short of malodorous as Sidney Young, a desperately striving, celebrity-chasing London journo whose embarrassing disruption of a BAFTA Awards party unaccountably earns him a job offer from Gotham-based Sharps magazine honcho Clayton Harding (a very long-haired Jeff Bridges).
Turning up for work in a vulgar T-shirt, arrogantly considering his initial assignments beneath him and freely admitting he regards “Con Air” the greatest film of all time, Simon rubs everyone the wrong way; he manages to annoy Pat Kingsley-like PR maven Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson), repulse rising editor Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston) and accidentally kill the beloved Chihuahua of this year’s hot young thing, Sophie Maes (Megan Fox).
Perhaps scenarist Peter Straughan was entitled to some license to exaggerate, but he goes too far when, in a sudden spasm of sincerity, he audaciously tries to encourage a rooting interest in a romance between the terminally boorish Sidney and his lovely office supervisor Alison (Kirsten Dunst), despite her entirely justified initial distaste for him. The further this story strain is pursued, the more of a turn-off the whole enterprise becomes.
In the meantime, however, significant time is expended on Sidney’s endless pursuit of gorgeous Sophie, who, despite the canineocide, promises to have sex with the little twerp if she wins a Golden Globes-like best actress award for her lead performance in “Teresa: The Making of a Saint,” a Mother Teresa biopic the mock trailer for which is very similar to, but drastically less funny than, the gay medieval priest meller sampled at the beginning of “Tropic Thunder.”
Filling out the dance card are assorted parties and social events resplendent with sexy babes and moneyed elders. Despite innumerable opportunities for real-life cameos, only notable celeb who deigns to appear as herself here is a game Thandi Newton.
As the maker of docus on the Marx Brothers, Mort Sahl, W.C. Fields and Lenny Bruce and the director and exec producer of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” helmer Robert Weide possesses indisputable comic credentials, but he hasn’t seen fit to tone down Pegg’s wide-eyed, gape-mouthed mugging or to make him forget about the presence of the camera, to which the star all too clearly aims his antics. Tone falls into a muddled middle range that makes Sidney’s behavior entirely unpalatable; story might have played better in one of two other ways, either in a more realistic mode in which the character interactions would have been forced to be credible, or in a context where the other figures were so clearly venal they would have deserved everything Sidney dished out.
With the partial exception of Dunst, whose vulnerable young writer suggests fragments of humanity, other thesps are asked to provide nothing beyond caricature. Production values are satisfactory, save for a silly episode in which “La Dolce Vita” is presented to New Yorkers in an outdoor park in a print with no subtitles.