By Gannett News Service
Is the current crop of British comedy geniuses selling out?
No, not really. But you’d be forgiven for thinking so on the face of it. First, the brilliant Ricky Gervais shows up as an actor-for-hire in the just-decent “Ghost Town” – he’s the best thing about the film by far, but still. Now, the similarly talented Simon Pegg takes on a similar job in “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People,” a movie that should have been better than it is, but isn’t even as good as “Ghost Town.”
Pegg plays Sidney Young, a writer for a smart-aleck British magazine who gets hired by an American publication to help spice things up. (The film is based on Toby Young’s book about working for Vanity Fair.)
Pegg is, as we have come to expect, quite funny. His Sidney is a goofy little guy, whose innate charm manages to overcome a practiced rudeness. Also, he’s a really bad dancer.
Sidney was hired in a fit of nostalgia by Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), an editor who was a formerly kindred spirit who stuck pins in the artificially inflated world of celebrity but has since come to see the value in a nice little nod to the marketing partners.
Nobody “gets” Sidney, at least not at first, because he refuses to play the game. Fellow scribe-in-the-trenches Alison (Kirsten Dunst) is at first repelled by him, but comes to suspect there might be more to him than meets the eye (and, naturally, there is).
Of course, everyone has his price. Sidney’s comes in the form of Sophie Maes (Megan Fox), a vapid starlet about whom he wants to write (and do so much more), but whose predatory publicist (Gillian Anderson) insists on approving every word of any story.
Will Sidney give in? Or stick to his guns? Or both? Will he wind up with Sophie, despite a hideous misadventure with her dog? Or are he and Alison meant for each other?
Eh. You know the answer to that. And there’s nothing about Peter Straughan’s script or Robert B. Weide’s direction that makes you ever suspect otherwise.
Meanwhile, a curious recurring joke: Transvestite strippers. Just so you know.
The world of New York magazines is ripe for satire, as evidenced by the many movies that reference it – “The Devil Wears Prada,” the remake of “The Women,” etc. (Though there’s not necessarily much evidence that anyone outside the five boroughs is as interested in it as the people who make movies think there are.) “How to Lose Friends” looks at first as if it’s going to give us a peek inside that world, but eventually settles into a rote romantic comedy.
That being said, anyone who grew to love Pegg on the basis of “Shaun of the Dead,” an instant classic that he co-wrote and starred in, will enjoy watching him here, or anywhere – and find themselves looking forward to the next film he creates for himself all the more.
Rated R for language, some graphic nudity and brief drug material. 2 stars out of 4.