In heartbreak hotel, 'Sarah Marshall' is the girl next door

A man bumps into his ex-girlfriend while on vacation in the risqué comedy 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall.'

By , Film critic of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Marshall law: Heartbroken Peter (Jason Segel) finds himself at the same hotel as his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend.
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The latest – I almost said, "this week's" – Judd Apatow production is an agglomeration of much that has come before. "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" will be familiar to anyone who has seen "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," "Superbad," etc. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Familiarity in the movies does not always bring contempt. Sometimes it brings a sense of connoisseurship – if that's not too tony a word to use in connection with Team Apatow.

Jason Segel, who also wrote the script, plays Peter Bretter, a composer of incidental music for an awful but popular TV crime show starring his girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). He's content to accompany her to premières and blink at the flashbulbs that are not meant for him. It's a small price to pay for such a prize partner.

When she breaks up with him, he goes into a rolling funk that lands him in Hawaii for a spur-of-the-moment getaway in what turns out to be the same luxury hotel where Sarah and her new squeeze, British rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), are lustily carrying on.

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Director Nicholas Stoller isn't really up to the split-second staging that this sort of farcical situation requires, and many of the jokes are repetitive. Still, there's a refreshing lackadaisicalness about the comedy that fits right into the gorgeous Hawaii locale. Stoller isn't mean-spirited in the way that the Farrelly brothers were in a similar set-up, the dreadful remake of "The Heartbreak Kid" with Ben Stiller.

Sarah isn't a harridan, she's just confused, and, given Peter's soppy sloppiness, you can't entirely blame her for wanting to move on. Even Aldous, who would normally be cast in a movie like this as the villain, is a nice guy.

It's often been the case in Apatow movies that, although they generally feature goony slobs, the women in them come across better than you might expect. That's because they've got the guys' number. This takes the sting out of what otherwise resembles flat-out misogyny. In "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," Peter is teamed with a comely hotel clerk (Mila Kunis) who takes his mind off Sarah, and she seems like a such a good match for him that the whole love-on-the-rebound thing seems pre-ordained. I wish the interplay between these two had been sharper; at times Stoller reaches for a gross-out gag just to keep the scenes moving along. And maybe it's time to declare a moratorium on Hawaiian shirt jokes. But this is a hit-and-miss comedy in which the hits outnumber the misses.

As is true of all Apatow productions, one must be prepared for the usual quotient of off-color lewdness. (Let's just say that Jason Segel is not shy about showing off his birthday suit.) But, more so than with the other Apatow films, the down-and-dirty stuff is good-natured. "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" is, ultimately, forgettable, but for most of the way it's a pleasant little vacation of a movie.

• Rated R for sexual content, language, and some graphic nudity.

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