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Short Takes

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The idea behind producer Judd Apatow and director Nick Stoller's follow-up to Forgetting Sarah Marshall is inspired in its simplicity: Take the two most interesting supporting characters from their 2008 romantic comedy (which otherwise starred Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, and Mila Kunis) and put them in a buddy comedy together. The focus this time out is on awkward superfan Jonah Hill, who has since become a low-level record company exec, and omnisexual loony-tune Britpop star Russell Brand, whose star has faded since releasing a hilariously offensive bleeding-heart ballad called "African Child." The duo have to get to the rocker's potentially career-redeeming anniversary concert at the Greek Theater, and the main obstacle in their way, of course, is Brand's self-destructive behavior. While predictable, the results are often very funny – Hill's obese straight man makes an ideal foil for Brand's reliably zany antics involving drugs, alcohol and women. But it's amazing what happens when a character is relegated (that is, indeed, the right word) from supporting scene-stealer to lead: Saddled with the requisite emotional backstory, Brand isn't quite the surreal force of comic chaos he was in the earlier film. Now that he has a character arc, with all sorts of parental and relationship issues to resolve, it's hard not to feel like his wings have been clipped. We're laughing, but we're also tempted to shed a tear for what has been lost. (Opens Friday) BILGE EBIRI


It's clear Splice aims to be a different kind of mad scientist movie from the moment we meet the mads: Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley, two media-savvy fashion victims who fiddle about with DNA and create new life forms that they dub "Sid & Nancy" or "Fred & Ginger." When they introduce human genes into their experiments, they end up with a creature that looks like a cross between a fetus and a kangaroo, and then they argue over whether they should nurture it or rush it straight to autopsy. In their private life, Brody and Polley are also in disagreement over whether they should have a kid, which is no coincidence since Splice is often about the struggles of coupledom and parenting—that is, when it's not about gazing in horrified wonder at a leaping, croaking girl-thing. Writer-director Vincenzo Natali overstresses the main theme a bit, especially when the creature the scientists have dubbed "Dren" rapidly begins to blossom into womanhood, dredging up Mommy Issues from Polley's childhood. The movie's comic timing and the horror timing are also a little off, perhaps because Natali's as interested in the characters and the drama as he is in tickling the viewer. But that choice also means that Splice is the rare monster movie that doesn't subject its audience to stretches of tedium between chases and gore effects. Splice stays engaging throughout, for a simple reason: It's constantly evolving. (Opens Friday) NOEL MURRAY

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