Producer Judd Apatow's merry little comedy factory continues to churn out movies at assembly line pace, all hinging on some variation of the spoiled, adolescent baby-man stumbling to find his masculinity and grow the hell up. Star and writer Jason Segel adds new wrinkles to the program, milking humor out of emotional nudity and flaccid manhood, both metaphoric and real. This is Segel's first crack at a leading role, and to prove his commitment to the craft he drops his towel and plays the opening scene in the buff, as his Peter Bretter, a shlubby TV composer, gets abruptly dumped by his famous actress girlfriend, the titular gal played by Huntington Woods native Kristen Bell.
His response is to sulk around the house in his sweatpants, eating mixing bowl-size servings of Froot Loops and sobbing at daytime TV, until his acerbic stepbrother (Bill Hader) goads him into booking a soothing vacation in Hawaii. In fine sitcom fashion, he books a room in the same plush resort that Sarah and her British rocker boy-toy are holed up in. The hotel's staff quickly takes pity on Peter. Particularly concerned is the very comely Rachel (a glowing Mila Kunis) who sneaks him into a super-deluxe suite, and invites him to beachside parties. Of course, our main sad sack can't see the hottie for the palm trees, and keeps droning on about his lost love in the most pathetic, needy, bleary-eyed display in recent movie memory, which turns out to be pretty damn amusing, if repetitive.
The trap of making movies about slackers is that it often leads to slack storytelling, and, just like its hero, Forgetting Sarah Marshall has a midsection as soft and shapeless as lumpy mashed potatoes. Every time we think Peter is going to suddenly grow a pair and seize the day, we get diverted by some extraneous shtick from Apatow regulars like Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill, doing less successful riffs on characters they've done before. Even the stuff that works — like Thirtysomething's Jack McBrayer as a honeymooning evangelical newlywed struggling mightily to please his new wife — gets beaten into the ground by a script that overindulges like a Midwestern tourist at a luau.
Fortunately, Russell Brand as the rocker boyfriend is usually nearby to offer the comedic Heimlich. His bawdy, pompous cockney bloke is a giddy cocktail of Bono, the Gallagher Brothers and the improv genius of Spinal Tap — and he's guilty of full-scale scene-stealing.
There are some huge, gut-busting laughs in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and many more awkwardly dry moments, but the picture really shines when it lets the characters breathe and expand on their quirks. Peter's hidden artistic ambition, for instance, is to stage an epic musical about Dracula — using puppets. It's this kind of detail that draws us in long after the dick jokes have grown tiresome. If that doesn't suggest a revolution in dude-friendly romantic comedy, it's at least a glimmer of maturity.
Corey Hall writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.