The problem with "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People" is that the movie wants to be your friend and it doesn't want to alienate you.
Simon Pegg plays Sidney Young, a British tabloid journalist who is recruited by a U.S. Vanity Fair-style magazine to write profiles of celebrities in the States. Sidney, who doesn't believe in coddling his subjects and has gotten into more than a few drunken scrapes at parties, is taken aback by the softball approach he's asked to use for his new job.
Sidney is based on Toby Young, who wrote the memoir that led to the movie. But although the book named names, specifically that of eccentric Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, screenwriter Peter Straughan and director Robert B. Weide opt for a gentler, fictionalized approach with the movie (Jeff Bridges, having a high old time as Sidney's new boss, plays "Clayton Harding").
Celebrity journalism is certainly a prime target for mocking, but the filmmakers seem more interested in turning this into a Nick Hornby-style romantic comedy, with Sidney doing the flirtation dance with his sometimes-aghast colleague Alison (Kirsten Dunst, giving one of her more awkward performances). This punch-pulling is a little surprising coming from Weide, whose credits include Larry David's HBO squirm-com "Curb Your Enthusiasm," a show that really could be titled "How to Lose Friends and Alienate People."
Pegg redeems this with a performance that manages to be rude and ingratiating, although it might disappoint fans of his more aggressive comedies "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz" (this isn't the first time that Pegg seems to be trying to be the new Hugh Grant). And Megan Fox proves that she's more than just "Transformers" eye candy with her amusing riff on the self-absorbed starlet.
But this is a movie that plays it too safe, one that wants to give a comforting shoulder rub when it should be jabbing you in the side.
HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS AND ALIENATE PEOPLE
2 stars (Out of 4)
STARRING: Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Bridges and Megan Fox
DIRECTOR: Robert Weide
RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes
RATING: R for strong language, nudity and drug use.
THE LOWDOWN: The escapades of a bumbling British celebrity journalist who is hired by an upscale magazine in New York City.