My heart really wanted to rave about Jason Segel's first starring role on the big screen, and it would have won out if only his flick had a little more heart itself. Without it, the movie too often just falls apart.
But lets start with the good stuff first, because there's almost enough of it to sustain a 90-minute movie (instead of one that, like "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," clocks in at just over two hours.)
When the story sticks to its four core stars, it does indeed have plenty of charm. Segel, who you probably know by now exposes his wang-dang-doodle (more on that later) and a lot more in this one, is at his best in awkward situations, and for a guy who spends the first 30 minutes or so crying most of the time, he's very funny here (listen, in particular, for the best use of the "The Muppet Show" theme I've heard in many years.)
And I've made it clear in this space many, many times that I have a weakness for Kristen Bell, so yes I'm admittedly grading on a curve. But, as the titular bitch of the title, she does manage to make Sarah Marshall a well-rounded - if extremely selfish - bimbo (and her rhythmic use of the word "bullshit" near the end is just about perfect comedy.) More importantly, her performance is more than strong enough to make you see why she would be with Segel's slacker for five years before breaking his heart, and therefore get you a lot more invested in the meltdown that follows under the Hawaiian sun.
Mila Kunis, as the requisite other woman who gives the story its rather conventional feel, is certainly sexy enough, but special kudos go to Russell Brand, who makes his Alduous Snow just a first-rate git. I had never heard of the dude before this flick. A quick check of the IMDB shows he was in "Penelope" this year, but I managed to forget all of that flick shortly after it ended. I won't spoil it for you, but his music video (as the leader of the band "Infant Sorrow") is the funniest thing I've seen on screen this year, and just the finest kind of cheese.
So, if the movie has all that going for it, what's the problem? Well, the Judd Apatow equation only works for me when it's got almost as much heart as it does raunch (hence my undying love for "Superbad.") When you just pile on the latter, as "Sarah Marshall" does with its supporting players, you get a second-rate Will Ferrell movie or, worse, something like "My Best Friend's Girl," for which - thanks to projector problems - we had to watch the trailer twice before "Sarah Marshall." If I may digress for just a second, as someone who doesn't watch much standup comedy, I have to ask: Is Dane Cook really funny at all? If so, I've clearly missed it.
In "Sarah Marshall," only the very funny Bill Hader manages to rise above the mediocre material to fare well. Jonah Hill, who was just perfect in "Superbad," only manages to annoy here as a sycophantic waiter, and I just can't understand how they could manage to so thoroughly waste someone as good as Paul Rudd in such a stupid role.
But unfortunately, as much as it pains me, I have to heap the most scorn on Macon's own Jack McBrayer. I've liked him quite a bit on the few episodes I've seen of Tina Fey's "30 Rock," but his dumb redneck shtick on the big screen (the variety here is "dumb Christian redneck) is just quickly wearing out its welcome. I know he can do a lot better, but I've yet to see it in movies.
And finally, getting back to Jason Segel's quickly-becoming-infamous hanging of brain at the opening, the bottom line for me is always was it funny, and I can say that in the most squirmworthy way possible yes, it was. It probably works so well because, as Segel told the Associated Press, it actually happened to him almost exactly like that:
"This naked breakup commenced and, honest to God, maybe this is part of the problem, all I kept thinking was, 'This is ... hilarious.' "
It pretty much is, and if you're keeping score, be warned that he does a brief reprise in the third act (but by then, the shock is clearly gone.) And the score for "Forgetting Sarah Marshall"? Well, despite my complaints it's the best big-screen comedy so far this year - which admittedly may not be saying much - and well worth at least a matinee. Peace out.