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Review

‘How to Lose Friends and Alienate People’ lacks comedic focus

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October 9, 2008

Budding journalists are taught that while true objectivity is a myth, their reporting should still be as slant-free as possible. As a result, movies have conjured up countless characters who abide by this creed, delicately dancing around ethical red tape as they battle the big, bad villain du jour. This is why I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the new comedy “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People.” Rather than hitch a ride on a moral high horse, this flick gleefully tosses mores out the window, eventually evolving into an all-out assault on celebrity culture – and doing a pretty funny job of it.

  As the editor of quite possibly the world’s teensiest periodical, Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) has spent most of his life as one of the little people, writing savage articles about high society whenever he’s denied entrance into their up-scale world. But after a wild stunt at a high-profile party, things actually start looking up for our beleaguered chum. Sidney’s mishap just happened to have caught the attention of Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), chief editor of New York-based Sharps magazine, enough so that he offers Sidney a job on the rag’s society beat. In no time at all, Sidney is hobnobbing with supermodels, filmmakers and all manner of paparazzi fodder. The trouble is that this all-access pass comes with a price, with Sidney finding himself torn between maintaining journalistic integrity and kissing the hind ends of celebrities for the rest of his life.

  I know, it’s not exactly earth-shattering for a movie to preach about how vain celebs are (next you’ll be saying the Earth is round, or something). But “How to Lose Friends” brings a true sense of snarkiness to the table, its attacks coming across with real bite instead of doling out lightweight lobs. The story wisely puts off Sidney’s cliched struggle to remain true to his ideals until later in the film, instead focusing on the amusing shenanigans he causes while trying to keep his head above water.

  Once “How to Lose Friends” reaches that point, though, it does run out of steam remarkably fast. In short, this is pretty much “The Devil Wears Prada” repackaged with a male demographic in mind, embodying virtually the exact same story structure. But aside from lengthening the running time a bit too much, it’s nothing that cripples the flick too badly. The cast is always dependable for doing wonders with the material. Aside from Pegg’s hilarious turn as the hell-raising Sidney, Bridges has fun as his burned-out boss, and Megan Fox (who lived up to her last name in “Transformers”) does great work as a shameless attention whore.

  “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” covers no ground that hasn’t been satirized before. But for the most part, it maintains a fresh vibe as it goes about its duties. Sharply written and nimbly acted, “How to Lose Friends” is the perfect film for anyone who’s come close to hulking out at the mere mention of “TMZ.”

Three and a half stars

A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.