A comedy that misfires is not a catastrophe. After all, being unfunny is not the worst cinematic crime. Wasting the talents of Simon Pegg
, however, surely mandates some kind of conference with the World Court in The Hague. From his cult TV series Spaced to the brilliance that is Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz
, this British actor is wit incarnate. But put him in projects outside his partners in satire (Edgar Wright
and Nick Frost
), and he flails like a fat boy running. Now comes How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, a worthless excuse for a laugh-a-thon that elicits more groans than giggles.
UK journalist Sidney Young (Pegg) is desperate to make it big. He will do anything to crash celebrity parties and get a scoop. His hijinks grab the attention of Sharps magazine publisher Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges
), and soon, the Brit finds himself in New York, working at the influential rag. Under the editorship of Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston) and with the help of fellow reporter Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst
) he soon discovers that a life covering the limelight isn't all its cracked up to be. As a matter of fact, it turns out that power-mad publicist Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson
) controls most of the magazine's celebrity content, and if Sidney wants to succeed -- and get to date her sexy star client Sophie Maes (Megan Fox
) -- he better learn how to make her happy. Article continues below
Bereft of a single saleable joke and aimlessly trying for Devil Wears Prada territory, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is an unholy and unbridled mess. It's the kind of movie that dictates your reaction by how desperate and/or disengaged the characters are onscreen. In the frantic department is star Pegg, who appears to be throwing everything he's got at the camera. Between shamelessly mugging and random bitter bon mots, he's the least humorous element in a narrative that can't find a comic center. He's joined in anxiousness by Dunst, who removes most of her bubbly persona to play dour and moody -- and these are supposed to be the characteristics we root for and identify with.
On the "couldn't care less" side is Bridges, gray hair needing a good shampoo and mannerisms revolving around how he holds a cigarette. His line deliveries seem lifted from a first reading of the script and when forced to put his foot down, he's more passively peeved than irate. About the only element in this tepid TMZ tell-all (based on real-life reporter Tobey Young's memoirs of his time at Vanity Fair) that works is Fox's flummoxed starlet. She manages the movies only chuckle -- a movie trailer for a mock Mother Teresa biopic. Paired up with an equally effective Anderson and forced to do dopey, she at least manages to make her one-note facet function.
But the biggest problem facing How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is the lack of legitimate cleverness. Clearly, director Robert B. Weide (producer/director of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm) thinks that pig urine and dead Chihuahuas are funny. He also enjoys naked transgender riffs, especially when little kids are involved. His style is so scattered he'll try anything -- slapstick, spoof, sarcasm -- to tickle our ribs. All he manages to influence is our other "gag" reflex, and not even Pegg can prevent that.
With a romance we could care less about and villainy that earns no comeuppance, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People fails on all fronts. It can't decide if it wants to be factual or farcical. By wasting Pegg, it ends up being a felony.