- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

You’ll learn plenty about life and love from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Never break up with someone when you’re naked. Avoid any vacation spot your ex might choose. And don’t count the Judd Apatow comedy express out yet, despite tepid box-office returns for “Drillbit Taylor” and “Walk Hard.”

Once again, Mr. Apatow takes one of his bit players — this time it’s Jason Segel of “Knocked Up”— and lets him take the starring role. Mr. Segel, who wrote “Sarah Marshall,” is commanding enough to carry his own film. He’s so in charge here, in fact, he lets himself go the Full Monty during the opening scene.

Not that we needed to see that.

“Marshall” stars Mr. Segel as Peter, a soundtrack musician who gets dumped by Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), a TV actress who stars on a cheesy “CSI” clone.

Peter takes the news hard, but his brother Brian (Bill Hader) persuades him to take a solo vacation to Hawaii to get Sarah off his mind.

As plot contrivance would have it, Sarah also is vacationing at the same resort where Peter chooses to stay, but she isn’t alone. Her new beau, a vapid British singer named Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), is by her side.

Talk about torture. However, the island natives rescue Peter from his worst nightmare. A local surfing instructor (Paul Rudd) teaches him the zen of the waves. A portly waiter (Jonah Hill) does his best to cheer him up. Finally, there’s Rachel (Mila Kunis), the hotel staffer who might be the best-qualified to make Peter forget all about Sarah Marshall.

All Peter really wants to do, besides heal his broken heart, is stage a puppet rock opera about Dracula. His dream serves as a reliable running gag and, ultimately, a spiritual quest that sets “Sarah” apart from other R-rated comedies.

Mr. Segel’s graduation from bit player to star is surprisingly smooth. He has the man-child shtick down cold, but he carries his dramatic scenes with an endearing go-for-broke energy.

“Sarah” packs the usual Apatow touchstones — gratuitous male nudity, his expanding pool of repertory players and an immature hero who grows up just enough to approximate adulthood.

Too bad Mr. Hill’s work as a sycophantic hotel employee isn’t funnier and Mr. Rudd’s character seems like an improv routine that worked better in rehearsals than on film.

Mr. Brand nearly swipes the film as the vain singer with more honesty than anyone else on the island. His ludicrous global-warming ditty is a hoot, but it’s Mr. Brand’s complicated performance that makes Aldous so endearing.

Katherine Heigl criticized her own Apatow movie, “Knocked Up,” for its shallow female characters. That charge didn’t ring true then, but it sure applies here. Both Sarah Marshall and Rachel exist to propel the story forward, but neither seems as three-dimensional as our sad-sack hero.

Had either woman been developed as fully as either Peter or even Aldous, “Sarah” could have reached the comic heights of Mr. Apatow’s best comedies, “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Instead, it’s the best Apatow-produced comedy since “Superbad” and further proof that supporting actors deserve a shot of their own.

***

TITLE: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”

Rating: R (Adult language, nudity, sexual situations and drug use)

CREDITS: Directed by Nicholas Stoller. Written by Jason Segel. Produced by Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson.

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

WEB SITE: www.forgettingsarahmarshall.com MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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