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Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Boy loses girl – and pants; gets some laughs in this cheerfully vulgar comedy.

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For years, I've complained about chick-centric break-up comedies, where viewers suffer through 90 minutes of weepy hysterics, late-night sessions with Ben & Jerry, ill-advised rebound hook-ups and buckets of tedious self-loathing before our good-hearted heroine finally discovers Mr. Right (usually right there).

Why is it that women are made into these suffering fools? Don't men get dumped, cheated on and not fully appreciated? Would it take so much to make a movie about their self-indulgent, self-pitying behavior in the wake of a break-up?

At last, my pleas have been answered. Admittedly, I may have already seen a male break-up movie or two, but the hundreds of romantic comedies I've seen exist in my memory as one big amorphous ball of cute shoes, snarky gay sidekicks, drunken karaoke nights, vintage convertibles and perfect weddings between beautiful people.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is boy-centered alright, but it's also a straight-up break-up comedy, from its opening buh-bye scene right through to its improbable happy ending. This gender reversal doesn't bust out the genre or make the film any better, but hey, at least it's a change to watch a guy act like a maudlin dumbass for once.

Nicholas Stoller directs a script penned by the film's star, Jason Segel, but the marquee name on this affair is Judd Apatow, as in "produced by." Thus, his fans can rightly expect: vulgar sex banter (check); funny jokes (some); familiar Apatow players in supporting roles (yup); underwritten female roles (natch); pop-culture riffs (a couple); a thin comic premise that goes on 30 minutes too long (oh yeah); and boy-girl material that's safe for raucous guys to watch (prepare to spit popcorn).

Here's what happens: Sad sack Peter (Segel) gets dumped by his actress girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell, of Veronica Mars). Sarah is the star of a CSI-type TV show, and Peter writes the series' moody, minimalist score (ooh, slacker dream job). But Sarah's fallen for the decidedly greasy charms of Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), a self-adoring English rock star and libertine.

To cure his copious weeping, Peter goes on a Hawaiian vacation, and -- get this! -- ends up at the same beach resort as Sarah and Aldous. The sassy, cute desk clerk, Rachel (That '70s Show's Mila Kunis), gives him a free room, plus an encouraging wink. Peter spends the next week or so getting loaded on fruity cocktails; avoiding and not-avoiding Sarah, Aldous and Rachel; and sorting out what his heart really wants.

This run-of-the-mill plot is papered over with lots of enviable scenery and an ensemble of "wacky" hotel guests and employees, many of them, like the stars, comfortingly recognizable. Segel's toiled in TV, too -- on CSI, How I Met Your Mother and at Apatow Academy, in Freaks and Geeks; Jack McBrayer of 30 Rock turns up, as does TV vet Steve Landesberg in deadpan cameo. Apatow regulars Bill Hader, Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd portray a helpful brother, a fawning waiter and a surf instructor, respectively.

Rudd's stoner surf-bum is just one among the film's many lazy comic stretches. (Was Tommy Chong unavailable? If you're gonna re-inflate this decades-old joke, at least get a pro.) Also in the so-tired category: the inept honeymooners (c'mon, birds do, bees, do it, even nerds can do it without a week's worth of instruction from losers at the hotel bar); the transplanted L.A. gangster; and, though Brand brings the film's best laughs and physical comedy, there's little fresh about a preening, self-absorbed MTV-wreck.

Oh, did I forget to mention exposed male genitalia? Segel gives his all for those few easy laughs. It used to be that no vulgar comedy was worth its ticket price if the director didn't lay on some random boob shots -- oops, is this the ladies shower? These days, there are bigger guffaws to be mined from gratuitously disrobing men, especially regular, no-body joes (and worse), paraded nude or crammed into tiny thongs.

Like the same-old break-up comedy that features a guy instead of girl, all these frank-and-beans naughty bits aren't exactly new. But they count, I guess, as a fresh angle. See you at the wedding.

 

Starts Fri., April 18.

Boys look pretty in flowers, too: Jonah Hill and Jason Segel
  • Boys look pretty in flowers, too: Jonah Hill and Jason Segel

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