“English rock stars don’t die,” explains record company CEO Sergio (Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, who almost steals the film with a slyly witty performance). He has evidence: Keith and Mick are still with us, and even the guys from Led Zeppelin. And of course exhibit A is Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), who has survived more than a decade of sex, drugs, rock and roll. And, barely, he has survived his most recent release, the disastrously awful “African Child,” deemed by a reviewer to be third only to war and famine in the list of the most tragic events that have been inflicted the African continent.
And now Aaron (Jonah Hill), a shy, sincere young executive at Sergio’s company, has proposed that Snow revitalize his career on the 10th anniversary of his legendary live performance that made him a star, and return to the Greek Theater in Los Angeles. So Sergio has sent him to London with 72 hours to deliver Snow to the theater, with a stop in New York for the Today Show and a detour to Las Vegas on the way.
It’s the classic buddy-road trip structure. A repressed character and a raging id go on a journey and to give us the best of both worlds we get both all kinds of bad behavior and then at the end some lessons learned. Aaron is introduced to many, many substances through at least two orifices. And Aldous is re-introduced to a few things he’s missed for a while, like performing, feelings, consciousness, and, what’s that other thing? Oh yes, reality.
But all of that is just there to make us feel better about the wild ride along the way. Brand is a believable rock star (and a believable mess). He keeps Snow interesting and appealing by not letting him be too much of a narcissist or an idiot. He has some self-awareness and in his own way he is constantly sparring with the world, testing those around him even if it’s just for his own amusement. He maintains enough control to keep up a sharp running commentary, almost to himself.
Hill is a strong performer who makes Aaron more than a nebbishy pushover. The script, by director Nicholas Stoller, has some hilarious detours (I was ready to stroke a fuzzy wall) and guest cameos (Lars Ulrich gets a good sport award, Meredith Viera looks appropriately appalled, and it’s always a treat to see a Nobel Prize-winning economist show up in a in movie featuring giant sex toys, a Rat Pack tribute band, a song about venereal disease, and a near-lethal drug concoction called Jeffrey). Rose Byrne’s performance as Snow’s ex (her child is, of course, named Naples) is a comic gem. Much of the laughter is of the “Oh, no, they didn’t say/do that” variety, but the energetic bad taste is part of the show — just like a real rock concert.
Parents should know that this movie has close to NC-17 material intended to be humorously provocative including drug use, extremely explicit sexual references and a variety of situations situations including nudity and sex toys, constant very strong and graphic language, and comic peril and violence
Family discussion: What was the most important thing that Aaron learned from Snow? What surprised you about Snow?
If you like this, try: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” with Russell Brand playing the same character (and Hill playing a different one) and “Spinal Tap”