Paul Rudd hops from one sofa to another to another as the title character in “Our Idiot Brother,” and that’s sort of what the film itself does, too.
Rudd stars as an amiable, ambling dude named Ned who has no real goals in life; what he does have is a guilelessness that consistently gets him into trouble, both with his family and with the law. (At the film’s start, he sells pot to a uniformed police officer, which earns him some brief time behind bars.) He has a knack for always saying or doing the wrong thing, even though he always means well.
Director Jesse Peretz, working from a script written by his sister, Evgenia Peretz, and her husband, David Schisgall, follows him as he bumbles his way from one situation to the next with no great momentum or sense of character evolution. Ned grows increasingly irritating to his hippie farmer ex-girlfriend (Kathryn Hahn), the three sisters he mooches off of (Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks and Zooey Deschanel) and to us. But then supposedly once they’ve all shunned him for causing so much inadvertent damage, they take him back because they realize what a positive influence he is in their lives.
It makes no sense — there’s a gap of logic and emotion that’s hard to overcome.
Still, the usually likable Rudd is totally committed to playing this annoying, goofy schlub: a Capraesque character in cargo shorts and shaggy facial hair. You don’t blame the sisters for ostracizing him — but then they’re all drawn in such an unlikable, two-dimensional way, you won’t want to be on their side, either. Director Peretz says they’re all meant to represent specific New York types, but they never feel like fully realized people.
First, Ned stays with Mortimer’s Liz, the smug, hovering, ultra-P.C. Brooklyn mom; her kids are named River and Echo. She’s married to a skeevy and disdainful documentary filmmaker played by a surprisingly unfunny Steve Coogan. They are obsessed with getting their son into the right private school.
When he wears out his welcome there, he moves in with Banks’ Miranda, an impatient and ambitious writer for Vanity Fair (where Peretz the screenwriter is a contributing editor in real life). She’ll do whatever she must to get good play for her piece on a British royal, even if it means using Ned to obtain secondhand information. She also bosses around her neighbor (Adam Scott, who has some nice, easygoing banter with Rudd); he has a crush on her for reasons that are difficult to comprehend.
(Again, it’s really hard to make Elizabeth Banks unlikable; “Our Idiot Brother” has achieved that dubious feat.)
Finally he joins Deschanel’s Natalie, a bisexual, bohemian artsy type who lives in an already crowded loft. She’s dating a lawyer named Cindy (Rashida Jones), poses nude for painters and tries out awkward new material at poorly attended open mike nights. Unlike the other sisters, she’s not uptight; instead, she’s selfish and flighty to a fault.
Whether Ned tears them all apart, brings them back together or finally finds a permanent home, it’s hard to care, because the film doesn’t seem to care, either.