Some movies make you laugh and cry, some movies make you squirm, and some movies are so half-assed they can’t arouse you to feel a thing. Wanderlust is in that last category. As a comedy, it’s less dumb than anything Adam Sandler’s done recently. It employs the considerable talents of several former members of comedy troupe the State, including director David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer). It’s full of pleasant “Hey, I recognize that guy! He’s funny!” moments.
Yet Wanderlust never gets off the ground. Its only laugh-out-loud highlight is a scene in which star Paul Rudd appears to be improvising. The whole enterprise feels like a sketch for a hilarious movie that someone scrawled on a cocktail napkin 10 years ago and never bothered to flesh out. Or like an overlong reunion at an artsy high school where a bunch of people entertain each other with gags that aren’t as clever as they think.
Rudd and Jennifer Aniston play married couple George and Linda, who are doing their best to live the upscale American dream in Manhattan. When he loses his job, and she fails in her bid to sell a depressing documentary to HBO, they’re forced to sell their “micro-loft” and leave the city.
George’s porta-potty tycoon brother (Ken Marino) invites the couple to join his family in their Atlanta McMansion. But that version of the upscale American dream, with flatscreen TVs blaring from every available surface, quickly becomes unbearable. When George and Linda stumble upon a rural community full of stoned, happy-go-lucky hippies, they decide to give turning on, tuning in and dropping out a try. It can’t be worse than the lifestyles they’ve already sampled.
So the film introduces us to a collection of wacky counterculture characters, including the commune’s addled, rambling founder (Alan Alda), a beatifically weird matriarch who keeps her uterus in a jar (Kerri Kenney) and a flower child eager to practice free love with George (Malin Akerman).
Justin Theroux does an amusing turn as the petulant group leader, who has Klingon hair, a faint surfer accent and designs on Linda. Though he inevitably evolves into something of a villain, he’s hampered in his plotting by his apparent ignorance of anything that’s happened in the outside world since 1990 — a funny idea but, like so many in the film, an underdeveloped one.
Likewise, Rudd and Aniston are never convincing enough as a couple to make us care about George and Linda’s marital problems, around which the plot ostensibly revolves. He’s charming, as always; she’s well-groomed and well-tanned, as always. But they don’t connect.
Wanderlust’s problems boil down to the fact that Hollywood has been doing comedies about uptight folks leaving the rat race to join the hippies since there have been hippies, and this one adds nothing to the genre (except, perhaps, cussing and geriatric nudity). It has its moments, but you’ll find more laughs in five minutes of an average “30 Rock” episode than you will here.
* Running time: 98 min.
* Rated: R