Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz)
Kirsten Dunst (All Good Things)
Megan Fox (Transformes)
Danny Huston (30 Days of Night)
Gillian Anderson (Hannibal)
Jeff Bridges (Iron Man)
Brian Austin Green (Terminator: TSCC)
Chris O’Dowd (St. Vincent)
Thandie Newton (Mission Impossible 2)
James Corden (Into The Woods)
Hannah Waddingham (Game of Thrones)
Miriam Margolyes (Romeo + Juliet)
Max Minghella (horns)
How to Lose Friends & Alienate People is a toothless satire raised from plain-jane mediocrity to legitimately pleasant all-rightness entirely by the performances of Simon Pegg and Kirsten Dunst. Director Robert Weide’s adaptation of the famous book is a hit-and-miss half-assery of star-skewering and romantic comedy fluff that fails to dig deep enough to draw blood despite ample opportunity, and yet its watchable. Pegg plays Sidney Young (an interpretation of the book’s real-life author Toby Young), the creator of the supposedly scathing British tabloid the Post-Modern Review. One of his former idols is Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges, sporting an incredible wig), who has gone on to be the editor-in-chief of Sharps Magazine in New York City, where Sidney feels he’s lost his bite. After Sidney ruins one of Clayton’s fancy parties by crashing it with a pig in tow, Clayton gives Sidney a call and offers him a job at Sharps. Seeing an opportunity to bring some cutting criticism back into Clayton’s work, Sidney accepts, flying to the States to start cracking heads. Instead, however, he finds himself under the watchful eye of co-worker Alison Olson (Dunst), whose current assignment seems to be keeping Sidney in check.The main problem is the film’s fear of being truly caustic, despite it literally being Sidney’s goal to do so. It’s clear that Weide and screenwriter Peter Straughan worry that giving Sidney the teeth to tear into someone could also make him an unlikable jackass, but if there’s anyone in the world who could have balanced the anarchic with the amicable it’s Simon Pegg. Instead, Sidney bluntly nags an actor about their sexual orientation, and the joke falls flat because not only is the line of questioning more unwise than outrageous, we’ve got no bearing on the “actor” in question. A real-life recognizable face might have packed a stronger punch. Similarly, while Max Minghella’s pretentious, ego-trip director has considerably more screen time, the film never aims below-the-belt. The character is merely dazed and distant, when it’s a perfect chance to stick it to both abstract artistes and David-O.-Russell-style directorial explosions.The remaining plot tracks the love-hate Alison and Sidney’s love hate-relationship, which reeks of a Hollywood book-to-film adaptation. Could these two actually have something in common? Boy, I wonder! And yet there’s Pegg and Dunst, generating crackling romantic and comedic chemistry, both exceptionally charismatic and appealing from the first frame to the last. Props for Pegg are expected, as he continues to elevate everything he’s in, but I want to shine a light on Dunst’s performance, Her career of late is faltering more than she deserves, and while Alison’s character arc is no great shakes, she still imbues it with more life and charm than many actresses could muster. This includes the exceptionally boring Megan Fox as the exceptionally boring Sophie Maes, a movie star who is probably not interested in Sidney, no matter how much he prays. Her fake Mother Teresa biopic is chuckle-worthy, but it’s got nothing on Downey Jr.’s Satan’s Alley from Tropic Thunder.
How to Lose Friends & Alienate People is the kind of movie you’d enjoy on television and forget by the end of the week.