"Our Idiot Brother" is a pleasant, innocuous little comedy given extra bounce and life by Paul Rudd's charming and fluid performance as an idealistic man whose heart exceeds the size of his brain.
The first scene tells us everything we need to know about Jesse Peretz's leisurely directing style.
"Our Idiot Brother"★ ★ ½
Starring: Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Steve Coogan, Shirley Knight, T.J. Miller, Emily Mortimer, Kathryn Hahn
Directed by: Jesse Peretz
Other: A Weinstein Company release. Rated R for language, drug use, nudity, sexual situations. 96 minutes.
A uniformed cop comes to an organic farm stand and asks a hippie-looking dude named Ned (Rudd) for some illicit weed.
Ned denies he has any. But after the cop practically begs for a dimebag (he's had a really bad week, he says), Ned reluctantly gives him some grass. Then, the cop keeps insisting he wants to pay for it, until Ned finally gives in and quotes him a price.
"You're under arrest!" the cop says.
"You're kidding!" Ned replies.
Instead of instantly cutting to a shot of Ned in prison -- a punchy visual requiring our brains to fill in the gaps -- Peretz has Ned continue to talk to the cop until the officer finally convinces him that he's seriously under arrest.
When Ned finally gets out of the joint for selling a joint, he discovers his old job as has been taken over by slow-witted Billy (T.J. Miller) and his girlfriend Janet (Westchester native Kathryn Hahn) has dumped him.
Worse, Janet keeps Ned's best pal in the world, his dog Willie Nelson, an eventual symbol of forgiveness later in the story.
Rejected and dejected, Ned winds up in the care of his three sisters: mousy mama Liz (Emily Mortimer), sexually experimenting lesbian Natalie (Zooey Deschanel) and corporate-climbing Miranda (Elizabeth Banks).
Their lives are screwed up enough with their significant others. Liz's hubby Dylan (Steve Coogan) is sleeping with a Russian model. Natalie's lover (Rashida Jones) is a workaholic. Miranda's male live-in friend Jeremy (Adam Scott) is a noncommital blah.
None of these characters is particularly interesting or even that attractive. (Shirley Knight's boozing mother hardly makes an imprint on this domestic comedy.)
The cute conceit of "Idiot Brother" stems from the premise that Rudd's Ned cannot tell a lie. It's not in his DNA to tell anything less than the complete truth.
We're never truly sure if Ned simply lacks basic survival skills and smarts, or if he's so naive and innocent, he just can't help himself.
Ned is far less funny than Jim Carrey's lawyer in "Liar Liar," under his son's wish to always tell the truth.
My guess: Screenwriters Evgenia Peretz and David Schisgall intended Ned to be closer to Jimmy Stewart's classic nice guy Elwood P. Dowd in "Harvey," a genuine innocent whose optimism changes the crusty characters around him.
Rudd is a gifted comic actor, and his talents are evident here in the way he gives Ned so much believability in unbelievable situations.
But he can only take Ned's bland, nice guy persona so far before the predictable pathway of Peretz's picture saunters to its abrupt and emotionally unearned finale.
"Our Idiot Brother" is amusing when it should be sidesplitting, sappy when it should be poignant, satisfying when it should be cathartic.
Besides, how seriously can you take a movie where the screenwriters appear to have reverted into teenagers?
"It's so awesome!" Beth says.
"I think you're awesome!" Ned says.
"Be awesome!" Natalie says.
"That's so awesome!" Ned says.
"You are awesome!" Natalie says.
"The sex will be awesome!" Jeremy says.
The only thing truly awesome about "Our Idiot Brother" is apparently the dialogue.