Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: "Wanderlust"

"Wanderlust" has some wonderful casting, starting with Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston as George and Linda Gurgenblatt, a pair of hapless New Yorkers who find themselves homeless and bunking down with a commune of modern-day hippies. Both actors just exude an aura of niceness and likability, even when their characters are behaving like twits, which is often.

I also liked Justin Theroux as Seth, the ostensible leader of the commune. He's sort of the Burt Reynolds of hippies, exuding a cheesy machismo that's potent but comes with a short shelf life. He talks dismissively about the technology and trappings of the world he left behind, but his references are all antiquated -- laserdiscs and Nintendo, etc. Even though he looks fairly young, we wonder exactly how long it's been since Seth last did anything besides strum a guitar in the woods.

And Ken Marino is a hoot as Rick, George's aggressively upper-middle-class brother from Atlanta who gives him a job after George's company is shut down by federal investigators. Rick makes a nice income selling porta-potties, drives a garish overpriced SUV, and owns a mini-mansion that seems to have a flatscreen television in every single room. His wife walks around in a daily fog of prescription medicine and veiled resentment.

"What did Mom do to you that she didn't do to me?" George asks after one of Rick's more egregious eruptions of assholery.

Other standouts are Alan Alda as the old lion of the commune he co-established 40 years ago; Kathryn Hahn as one of the more strident members, who seems to absolutely loathe George but desperately wants to share their free-love philosophy with him; Kerri Kenney as a babbling bother; and Joe Lo Truglio as Wayne, the commune's sole nudist, winemaker and wannabe author of political thriller novels.

(I should add that Truglio bravely attacks the revealing role in a, shall we say, direct manner. Although apparently he has nothing to hide, since he's blessed in the Michael Fassbender mode of Swinging Thespianism.)

There's so much good stuff happening in "Wanderlust" that it takes awhile to realize the moments that are generally funny are few and far between. This is the quintessential hit-and-miss comedy -- though when the movie is hitting, it packs a pretty potent laugh punch.

Rudd in particular gets to milk several scenes where he's just standing there reacting to the looneyness around him, pulling double- and triple-takes like a champion. His reactions are more engaging than most actors' actions. The sequence where George faces increasing sexual temptation from Eva (Malin Akerman) is like a master course in comedic tension.

Alas, as good as these pieces are, there just aren't enough strung together to recommend the movie.

"Wanderlust" is from the Judd Apatow movement, which seems to be taking over American film comedy with Borg-like inevitability. (Apatow serves here as executive producer.) David Wain directed and co-wrote the movie (with Marino). Wain is most known for "Wet Hot American Summer," an obscure 2001 movie that is regarded in today's Hollywood as some sort of Magda Carta of Funny. I tried watching it once, and wore out the fast-forward button on my remote before giving up.

I'm sure actors really like performing in these movies, because there's so much emphasis on ad-libbing dialogue and zany characterizations. Making this film was probably a blast, but that entertainment value got drained during the transition to the audience.

2 stars out of four

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