Despite the material—which is RIPE for skewering—the movie has no bite.
That’s what I thought as I left the theater after a screening of this would-be satire about the world of celebrity journalism. What sounded like it had promise (save for the fact that it co-stars Kirsten Dunst and her job is “love interest”), wound up falling kind of flat onscreen.
Simon Pegg (Hot Fuzz) is Sidney Young, a British writer and editor, whose super-small-scale social-commentary rag catches the eye of American magazine mogul Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges). Harding offers Sidney a job in Manhattan at his hugely popular glossy, Sharp’s, for reasons that are never really clear. But no sooner does Sidney step off the plane then he starts screwing up left, right and center. Bumbling and irreverent, Sidney manages to offend everyone—including his co-worker, Alison (Dunst, in a seriously charmless performance), an aspiring author biding her time at the magazine, and his boss (Danny Huston), a womanizer more interested in flirting with hot young actresses than doing his job.
But once Sidney meets dim-witted starlet Sophia Maes (Megan Fox), he sets out to make a name for himself at Sharp’s. He’s got goals… most of which seem to involve sleeping with Sophia. Too bad her über-powerful publicist Eleanor (Gillian Anderson) has other ideas, and the sometimes shifty machinations of celebrity-driven magazines are exposed.
Thing is, despite the material—which is RIPE for skewering—the movie has no bite. It tries, but the result is kind of half-hearted and unfunny. Pegg is no different here than he was in Run, Fat Boy, Run (coincidentally, another film where he’s a doofus trying to win a woman’s heart), and Sidney’s manic, insane antics should get him fired about 15 minutes into the film… yet, inexplicably, he keeps his job. Over and over again. Screw up after colossal screw up. I realize this is a function of the screenplay, but the suspension of disbelief became a tad unbearable after a while.
Dunst, as mentioned, has zero chemistry with her British co-star. There is no spark between Sidney and Alison, no matter how hard the filmmakers try to create one. It’s just dead. What would have made for a far better film, and a much more interesting dynamic, would have been pairing Sidney with Eleanor—Pegg and Anderson do have chemistry, and are far better matched talent-wise, and the story of a seemingly ethical and cynical scribe falling for a rule-bending, self-serving PR flack would have been infinitely more fun to watch.
There are random laughs within How to Lose Friends…, but not nearly enough to merit a better slice rating. The performances are weak (Fox comes a close second to Dunst in this department) and the potential for greatness is wasted. The behind-the-scenes-at-a-magazine schtick has been done to death, and sadly this film offers nothing new.