A minor but enjoyable entry in the boy-man comedy genre, "I Love You, Man" stars Paul Rudd as a guyless guy -- a heterosexual L.A. real estate agent engaged to be married but short on straight-up male companionship in general and a best man for his wedding in particular. Rudd has worked wonders in all sorts of comedies, from "Anchorman" (no one could turn to the camera, suddenly, with more phony intensity) to "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up." The reason Rudd wears so well has something to do with charm and, more important, spiking that charm with an unsettling dash of vinegar. He's easy company, but that smile seems to be hiding something.
Stuck in a socially tense situation, Rudd's character, Peter Klaven, relies on newly minted catchphrases that don't quite catch. "I'll see you there, or I'll see you on the ... other time," he says at one point. Later, he takes to calling his newfound man-date pal Sydney "totes magotes," a nickname with no known origin.
Such riffs provide the most interesting laughs in the film, which was co-written (with Larry Levin) and directed by John Hamburg. The movie is "The Odd Couple" with a looser vibe and more oral-sex references. Peter's fiancee, a pleasant blank played by Rashida Jones of "The Office," isn't given much to do plotwise, so the runway's cleared for Rudd and Jason Segel, who plays Sydney, a sometime investment whiz living the life of a Venice Beach slacker. How these two meet and bond leads to much engaging time-wasting. They're both freaks for the band Rush, and they initiate a series of jam sessions at Sydney's oceanfront "man-cave." A few formulaic lessons in friendship and forgiveness are the price we pay for the fun.
This Judd Apatow-free but decidedly Apatow-inspired vehicle isn't quite in the league of "Virgin," "Knocked Up," "Superbad" or Segel's starring vehicle, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." Director Hamburg's sensibility is more mainline and commercially calculated; he co-wrote "Meet the Parents" and "Meet the Fockers," and directed another Ben Stiller humiliation outing, "Along Came Polly." In "I Love You, Man," when he's required to deliver a projectile-vomiting sight gag, he does so in a strictly routine way, nothing off-center or unexpected about it.
What works best is whatever's completely incidental to the story, such as the totes-magotes/slippy mcgippy jive talk. The script sets up Peter as a familial and social loner -- Andy Samberg plays his gay younger brother; their relative closeness is never defined -- yet on some level Rudd seems too much the lad (or nerd-lad) to be playing the fellow he's playing. At the same time he's the reason to see the film. Segel's casual, genial belligerence (he refuses to pick up after his dog and gets rageful when confronted) contrasts wittily with Rudd's depiction of a tightly wound fellow attempting to cut loose and discover the joys of the "man-date."
Now: If one of these movies can get around to writing a really interesting female lead, we'll be getting somewhere.