Although Russell Brand’s self-indulgent rock star was at times the most memorable aspect of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” spinning off that supporting player into a not-quite-sequel represents the kind of chutzpah only a producer with Judd Apatow’s clout would try to engineer. Yet “Sarah” director Nick Stoller has mostly pulled it off, capitalizing on the wretched excess the rocker lifestyle embraces to deliver a number of gross-out moments almost worthy of “The Hangover.” There’s even some heart here too, though it’s not fatal to the fun, which should attract enough ticket-buying groupies to justify this encore.
Jonah Hill played a worshipful waiter in that earlier movie, but he occupies a (slightly) different role here — one that falls somewhere between “Almost Famous” and “My Favorite Year,” albeit with lots of vomiting.
A junior executive at Pinnacle Records, Hill’s Aaron Green proposes a comeback performance by Aldous Snow (Brand), who like a lot of aging rockers, has fallen on hard times. This backstory is dispensed with in an eight-minute montage consisting of faux news clips — shows like “Access Hollywood” and “TMZ” play along — which might be the highlight of the movie. The segment charts how Aldous and model/singer/girlfriend Jackie Q (Rose Byrne, displaying unexpectedly fine comedy chops, with a British accent) horribly misfired with “African Child,” an album whose insensitivity might set UNICEF back 20 years.
Aaron’s foul-mouthed boss, Sergio (a scene-stealing Sean Combs), finally sparks to the idea of a comeback, giving Aaron the task of collecting Snow in London, stopping over in New York to do a “Today” show appearance and then making it to Los Angeles for the Greek Theater concert, all in a matter of days.
Of course, there are complications, inasmuch as Snow is, as Sergio puts it, the “slipperiest, most conniving motherfucker on the face of the Earth.” Getting him there will thus require various sacrifices from Aaron, who has just split with his med-student g.f., Daphne (“Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss), not least the often groan-inducing oddities that wind up spewing out of or being put into him.
Meeting one’s idols is always a dicey proposition, but director Stoller (who also wrote and produced) manages to forge an unlikely bond between the mismatched pair, despite all the abuse Aldous heaps upon Aaron.
As R-rated comedy goes, the Apatow stable has become almost a can-you-top-this competition, and at times “Greek” works a little too hard toward that end, with a tone occasionally bordering on frantic. Still, barring a few lapses, the gags fly by in rapid-fire fashion, and enough of them connect — thanks in part to the amusing mix of Hill’s hang-dog demeanor with Brand’s lanky, relentless hedonism.
Brand and Byrne also do a credible job belting out various songs, which — even with the loony lyrics and outlandishly vulgar videos — often possess rather catchy hooks. (As the producers noted, the goal was to make them silly but believable as rock hits, as opposed to sounding like parodies.)
“Get Him to the Greek” is also notable as the latest Universal release to feature a conspicuous and extended tie-in with sister network NBC’s “Today” (co-host Meredith Vieira plays herself), after Matt Lauer fulfilled a similar role in “Land of the Lost.” In this case, one suspects the synergistic payoff will be considerably happier for the studio.