"How to Lose Friends & Alienate People" (R)
2 stars out of 4
Wanting desperately to be the second coming of "The Devil Wears Prada," "How to Lose Friends & Alienate People" succeeds by mostly alienating the audience. Loosely based on the Toby Young memoir of the same name, a riff on the famous Dale Carnegie book "How to Win Friends and Influence People," the most clever thing about the movie is its title.
Young gained initial notoriety in England as the head of "Modern Review," an edgy, pseudo-scandalous periodical which lampooned the rich and famous. After shutting it down, Young accepted an offer from trailblazing editor Graydon Carter to write for "Vanity Fair." That's not exactly how it happens in the movie, one that features no characters named Toby or Graydon.
This is not exactly big news. Most movie adaptations rarely adhere closely to their source material. Young's character, Sidney, is played by Simon Pegg, probably the most talented physical comedian since Peter Sellers. His presence in any movie makes it worth seeing and he does exactly what he's asked to do here: be as obnoxious, daft and irritating as possible.
Carter's character, Clayton Harding, is rendered by the always dependable Jeff Bridges with what appears to be his own shoulder-length, salt-and-pepper mane. Almost immediately, Clayton regrets his hiring of Sidney, but is a little too proud to admit he made a mistake and gives the Brit more than enough chances to redeem himself.
Clayton pawns Sidney off to a snooty subordinate Lawrence (Danny Huston) and his assistant, Alison (Kirsten Dunst), who both regard him as an industry joke. Both Huston and Dunst are superb, as is Gillian Anderson as the manager of up-and-coming starlet Sophie Maes (Megan Fox). The biggest surprise of the entire movie is that Fox, the No. 1 "hottest babe" on the Internet, is a pretty good actress. While not looking anything like Marilyn Monroe, Fox completely channels her sex-kitten persona.
If every principal performer does so well in their respective roles, why does the movie tank? The writing.
Virtual unknown Peter Straughan's screenplay is a mess. At the beginning of the third act, Sidney suddenly grows a heart and goes from being endearingly grating to infuriatingly sappy. What should be a snappy, 90 minute, PG-13-level romantic comedy is unnecessarily loaded down with off-putting, R-rated vulgarity, which adds nothing positive to the overlong end product. A loathsome frat-boy T-shirt Sidney wears for most of the first act is a prime example.
Longtime "Curb Your Enthusiasm" director Robert Weide also deserves his share of the blame. Being so familiar with the less-is-more mindset of high-quality episodic TV, it's surprising how extraneous the movie ends up being.
Aside from Pegg and Fox fans, this is a movie without a target audience. Women who love fashion, celebrity gossip and monthly glossies will be turned off by its crudeness and men will perceive it as a chick-flick.
Put this movie in the hands of more competent filmmakers and it would have been a scathing indictment of the cult of personality and journalistic ethics. As it exists now, it's a second-choice DVD rental. (MGM)