A Judd Apatow clone that’s one of the few recent R-rated raunch fests the ubiquitous auteur of larky crudeness actually had nothing to do with, “I Love You, Man” cranks out the kind of lowball humor that makes you gag on your own laughs. Ever alert for opportunities to drop dirty bombs — and compelled to repeat every below-the-beltjoke at least one time too many — pic never surmounts a deeply lame central premise that makes most of the action seem fraudulent and thoroughly unnecessary. Still, this Paramount release from DreamWorks brandishes enough lascivious comedy and all-purpose randiness to score with the young target audience and rack up some solid B.O.
Any impression that John Hamburg’s directorial follow-up to “Along Came Polly” features the same core idea with the recent Sundance hit “Humpday” — that of two straight buds taking their relationship to the nether regions — proves unfounded. Instead, “I Love You, Man” is propelled by the perplexing notion that a young man isn’t properly prepared for marriage or life in general unless he has a best male friend and, in the bargain, a guy who merits being his best man at the nuptials.
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It’s a rare film that features an operating principle less compelling or credible than this, although the script by Hamburg and Larry Levin (the two “Dr. Dolittle” revisitations) makes use of it to put Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) into a succession of awkward and embarrassing encounters that can easily be — and are — misconstrued in aspiringly comic ways.
But the notion of sending him on “man-dates” in search of a best friend proves preposterously contrived, as if such a confidential and symbiotic relationship could be formed anywhere near as quickly as falling in love, or certainly lust. Add the fact that Peter’s fiancee becomes completely and understandably alienated by the process and the annoyance level hits the red zone. All the picture lacks is a nudgy mother constantly asking, “So when are you going to get a best friend already?”
A mild-mannered Los Angeles real estate broker entirely lacking in any rough edges, Peter should count his blessings for having found Zooey (Rashida Jones), a sweet, freckle-nosed, adorably supportive girl next door who’s happily looking forward to marrying him. He’s an emblematic nice guy whose epiphany arrives when remarks overheard at one of Zooey’s girls’ nights make him feel his lack of male friends.
Why doesn’t he have any? Well, maybe it’s because he’s just too straight and predictable and sincere and boring for words. But in the hope of overcoming these drawbacks, Peter turns to his cool and gay younger brother Robbie (Andy Samberg), a professional trainer who specializes in straight men, finding gays too easy. The assignations that follow have all the spontaneous ease of a blind date or an unwelcome arranged marriage, especially one in which Peter’s dinner companion turns out to be gay with action on his mind.
Finally, however, Peter finds his destiny with Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), an unkempt lummox who drops by to scarf the free food at Peter’s open house for the Lou Ferrigno home he’s showing. Pretty soon, Peter and Sydney are a regular best-buds item, with Peter hanging at Sydney’s bachelor pad, grooving on mutual musical tastes and even sharing intimacies, a new concept for Peter. Could this be the real thing, a true friend?
Add female components to such an immaturity-based boy-boy relationship, however, and you’re asking for trouble, which is just what arrives when Sydney airs very private sexual laundry in a toast at Peter’s engagement party. Scripters know how to up the ante with typical third-act sex-farce complications — Ferrigno himself is amusingly worked in here — on the way to “I Love You, Man” becoming the 2,928th romantic comedy in Hollywood history to end with a wedding.
Rudd has enough comic smarts and deft takes to make his pablum character at least halfway palatable; his most amusing running gags are verbal, in the way he blurts out things he doesn’t mean to say and awkwardly tries to come up with new salutations when speaking with his too-cool new pal. Segel works in an agreeably low-key register to put over his Boudu-like interloper, who’s so expert at messing up other people’s lives. Although required to be warmly accommodating most of the time, Jones has the distinctive looks and manner to make you take notice.
Production values are thoroughly routine.