“I Love You, Man”
At Quality 16 and Showcase

Courtesy of DreamWorks/Paramount

1.5 out of 5 Stars

Paul Rudd is one of the strongest supporting players in comedy today. Bringing his affable yet smart-alecky demeanor to movies like “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” his great strength is his ability to be a source of both sentiment and hilarity. This being the case, it’s only natural that Rudd would foray into the role of leading man, following in the footsteps of fellow comics Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Steve Carell, who all graduated from co-pilot to head honcho. Earlier this year, Rudd starred in David Wain’s “Role Models,” which was entertaining enough, but not at the same standard of his previous roles. Even with all of this in mind, it’s hard not to be thoroughly disappointed with his most recent role in “I Love You, Man.”

Rudd plays Peter Klaven, a sweet, good-natured realtor and a “girlfriend-guy” — that is, he has no male friends of his own, only his new fiancée Zooey (Rashida Jones, TV’s “The Office”). It sounds like a role in which Rudd could flourish comedically. Instead, he is spineless and awkward. And not the amusing kind of awkward, but the awkward that makes you just want him to shut up.

As a complete product, the movie is decidedly subpar. Barely directed by John Hamburg (“Along Came Polly”), it’s hard not to feel like a lot of it was conceived in the editing room. Judd Apatow’s productions are known for being freewheeling, with the written script used as a guide for riffing and improvising. With Apatow’s golden touch completely absent, Hamburg, who also wrote the script, tries to employ this same type of filmmaking but fails miserably.

The film’s basic premise is funny enough. It takes characters coasting through life — a staple of buddy comedies today — and forces them to interact with one another in uncomfortable ways (as though they were wooing each other). In short, it is a romantic comedy for guys, affectionately termed a “bromance.” The idea is clever, but it fails to materialize in a meaningful way on screen.

Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) plays Sydney Fife, the man in Peter’s life, and he shines in the film — he would be the film’s saving grace if it were worth saving at all. Sydney is carefree and matter-of-fact, constantly offering candid and hilarious outbursts of vulgarity. As one of Seth Rogen’s buddies in “Knocked Up,” Segel stole the show — and he was ironically at odds with Paul Rudd. In “I Love You, Man” he steps up in a supporting role and ends up having to support the entire movie.

Getting back to Rudd: It can’t be stressed enough that he is a tremendous player in contemporary comedy. He is such a likable guy, which makes it all the more difficult to see him flounder in a lead role. While Segel is refreshingly funny, the best way not to let Rudd’s performance leave a sour taste in your mouth is by not seeing “I Love You, Man” at all.

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