Hiding behind a shaggy beard and a stoner grin, Paul Rudd plays an amusingly oblivious shrub in “My Idiot Brother,” but the movie can’t keep up with his comic momentum. Rudd portrays Ned Rochlin, a happy-go-luck organic farmer abruptly busted for selling pot to a police officer. Kicked out of his home by his moody ex-girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn), Ned loses possession of his faithful dog and winds up crashing at his mom’s house. There, he seeks help from his three sisters, played by Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer. Director Jesse Peretz guides them through an innocuous, mostly unmemorable series of events in which Ned introduces added dramas to each of their lives. The only reason to keep watching is Rudd’s investment in the business of being funny.
The crux of the story finds Ned drifting from one sister’s home to another, vaguely attempting to find a job but mostly just hanging around. Spending time with his ostensibly settled suburban sister Liz (Mortimer), he ends up corrupting her spoiled seven-year-old son and inadvertently discovering the adulterous behavior of her documentarian husband (Steve Coogan). Ned’s antics impact lesbian sister Natalie (Deschanel) as well, when he accidentally lets loose about her heterosexual trysts to her faithful partner (Rashida Jones). With journalist sister Miranda (Banks), Ned accidentally throws her job into jeopardy.
After each of these incidents, Ned finds himself alienated by his kin and fed up with the way he has been viewed as a failure. A few developments later and the stage is set for reconciliation. Intermittently engaging, “My Idiot Brother” proceeds through several lackluster scenarios until its overly neat ending, a resoundingly uninventive setup that asks very little of its talented ensemble cast that hasn’t been hashed out a million times before. The end result feels, by and large, quite tolerable — but simply humming along isn’t enough to justify a full-length feature. In fact, the name and the premise of “My Idiot Brother” would work better for a sitcom, or maybe several of them.
Rudd’s commitment to Ned’s free-spirited behavior takes his performative abilities in an intriguing direction, departing from the everyday joe he’s embodied in recent mainstream comedies. Peretz gives Rudd plenty of opportunities to display his range, but not enough substance to the scenario for the character to stand on firm ground. Going through the usual motions, “My Idiot Brother” is about as oblivious as Ned.
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Snatched up by The Weinstein Company for several million dollars after its world premiere at Sundance, the movie’s diverse star power means it will be positioned as having strong commercial appeal. But no trailer could possibly sell it as anything other than a conventional, middle-of-the-road comedy, so even a strong opening won’t sustain it for very long.
criticWIRE grade: C+