Successful “spin-off” TV shows have given a showcase to fully fleshed-out second bananas. But a cinematic scene-stealing supporting comedic character often works precisely because there isn't any attempt to provide more depth; the character exists to steal a few scenes, and nothing more. That's why taking Steve Carrell's blundering anchorman from Bruce Almighty and making him the hero of Evan Almighty resulted in an almighty stink-pile.
Yet here we have a vehicle for Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), the vain, addle-brained British Rock star from 2008's Forgetting Sarah Marshall. He's licking his wounds after his most recent record flops, but a music-industry functionary named Aaron (Jonah Hill) wants Snow to mount a comeback through a concert at Los Angeles' Greek Theater commemorating the 10th anniversary of his landmark live album.
Hill does some wildly funny stuff with his thinly-drawn character, but writer/director Nicholas Stoller wants to make sure there's emotionally resonant subtext to all the craziness. Brand is entertaining when wallowing in Snow's oblivious swagger — exactly what made him funny in Sarah Marshall. Turning his intoxicated excesses into a reaction to his break-up with a longtime girlfriend or having him question the emptiness of his lifestyle misses the point.
Snow is supposed to be a shallow mess of a human being, not a wounded and multifaceted sad clown. Unfortunately, that's what happens when you take the guy who was the unapologetic comic relief and wrap a narrative around him.
This package of gags is built on a faulty premise: that everything that was good in small quantities must be better in larger quantities. Grade: C-plus
Opens June 4. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.