This Apatow-sponsored flick written and directed by Nicholas Stoller opens with Sean “P. Diddy” Combs playing a music producer looking to rehabilitate his sagging music industry revenue flows. “We’ve got to thicken my ***n’ flow,” he declares to his team of sad-assed wannabes (including Apatow regular Jonah Hill as the assistant with the bright idea), and the half-caricature / half-insight tells you all you need to know about where this film is going. Basically, this is a movie about a wide-eyed young music producer's (Hill's Aaron Green) bright idea of rehabilitating the career of rock disaster Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), and how he's sent to England to transport the party-boy back to L.A. for a ten-year reunion concert meant to save both the label and the artist. The movie has all the rock-legend feel and sassy vulgarity of Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous without the nostalgic nuance.
Despite its simplistic take, this is actually one of the better rock-and-roll flicks of the last couple of years. The movie has a real feel for the idiom, not just of rock-and-roll but the entire spectrum of celebrity music culture, from the street ironies of rap (a rapper and his manager have a debate over pink Izod versus leather zipper jacket which is “one zipper away from Thriller”) to the Entertainment-Tonight bubble-gum antics (captured with aplomb in the opening number, “African Child”), all the way to rock music inspiration (nicely summarized with the closing bad-drug-trip-inspired “Furry Walls”). While the tub-tapping music itself is one notch beneath parody and makes its point with but a few repetitive chords, it hits the satire dead on.
The script mostly follows tried-and-true rock-and-roll drug-and-sex stereotypes: Aaron is immediately stymied in his intentions when Aldous takes him to have drinks with his mates, then sex at a club, and so on – barely making their flights to New York, creating a comic mess on the set of the Today show (with some well-placed cameos from random celebrities such as economist Paul Krugman), then on to yet another drug-detour in Las Vegas. Stock stuff, to be sure, but done with both a tinge of wit and evident love for the rock scene: only a true music fan would slip a still of the Chelsea Hotel into a transitional montage of NY music venues or position the climactic moment in a hotel balcony overlooking Sunset Boulevard.
In the vein of all Judd Apatow produced flicks, this is also a bromance. Hill’s Aaron has to learn to loosen up, while Aldous needs to re-connect with his passion for music, so the two are thrown together in this road-movie of outrageous antics so they can learn these lessons from each other. In the middle is Daphne, Aaron’s girlfriend (played by Elizabeth Moss of "Mad Men" fame as a bit of sly casting), an overly tired intern who’s trying to negotiate career moves with Aaron. The three actors are nicely matched: Brand’s cynical insouciance is a great counterbalance to Hill’s uptight earnestness (on the road, they’re a kind of modern Martin and Lewis), while Moss adds a touch of sensible-yet-badass sweetness. There’s a quite icky but nicely handled three-way that activates all these characters into their closing resolutions and ties up the movie in a nice post-modern, metrosexual bow.
Apatow meets Sid and Nancy, then, seems to be the formula: a post-modern, rap-rocker mash-up that’s probably two-parts stereotypical cliché to every one part media satire. For a fun, summer flick, you could do worse.