Simon Pegg's latest stumbling lunge into Hollywood is How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, which has him playing a Brit celebrity journalist who sells his soul to join the beautiful people at the other end of the red carpet. Edgy as a butter knife and as fresh as last December's Vanity Fair, this riff on the quid pro quo of celebrities and the glossy magazines that need them gets by on the good humor of its cast, which includes Jeff Bridges impersonating a couple of infamous New York magazine editors and Kirsten Dunst as the gossip who'd rather write a novel.
No, nothing here we haven't seen before, and the movie, based on Brit hack Toby Young's memoirish book, makes more than a few mentions of the Italian classic La Dolce Vita, which was about just this sort of chap in just this world. Alienate is La Dolce Vita with vomiting and Chihuahua gags.
Pegg is Sidney Young, a brash, rude, boorish "hack" hired by the inscrutable editor Clayton Harding (Bridges) of Sharps Magazine to cover celebrities in this country after trying to crash their awards shows and parties in the UK. Sidney thinks he's made it, that he's crossed the velvet rope line into the exclusive world of the rich and famous. "You've just entered the first room," says Harding (think Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair or Kurt Andersen). "There are seven rooms" he teaches, each with deeper access to this glitzy universe. Play ball and you'll move through the rooms.
Sidney thinks he's here "to shake things up," he tells other members of "the glossy posse," including the fetching Alison (Dunst), who loathes him. But no. He's here to be told who he'll write about and what he'll write by the imperious, all-powerful publicist (Gillian Anderson — think Pat Kingsley, who controlled Tom Cruise's image).
Sidney's a gauche, skirt-chasing boor with atrocious manners but an encyclopedic knowledge of film. He hates the pretension, the fawning over the new and the "hot." Well, except for the starlet Sophie (Megan Fox, as Jessica Alba-lite). She has his attention. She has everyone's attention. It's a gift of hers. Sidney wants her and figures he has a shot.
Lawrence (Danny Huston) is here to show Sidney what a successful American version of a celebrity journalist is like, cozying up to the talent, giving approval for the airbrushed cover photos and airbrushed puff profiles that go with them.
The movie doesn't get its hands around the neck of the sell-outs, doesn't give Bridges the chance to fully play the angst of a man who used to tweak the very people he now depends on for his lifestyle. Dunst, Huston and Pegg play a triangle cliché that's straight out of 100 better movies. And any film purporting to be about "the media" in this day and age is dated before the cameras ever roll.
That leaves us the ever-amusing Pegg, chewing with his mouth open, showing too much pale skin, drinking and flirting and dancing, dancing, dancing. He's a goof, and he's funny enough to warrant the price of admission. But after this and Run Fatboy Run, he really needs to deliver something sillier before he loses fans and alienates his audience.