Over the years, comedies have been described via many colorful, adjectival phrases - "sidesplitting," "gut-wrenching" and, in granddad's day, "knee-slapping." "Cringe-inducing" was never one of them, but given what's out there, it must be a virtue. But even though "I Love You, Man" supplies plenty of cringes, it also has overtones of warmth and undertones of real humor, and two stars - Paul Rudd and Jason Segel - who do what they do with aplomb.
What is it that they do? Both have flourished within the Judd Apatow Academy of Dramatic Arts (both appeared in "The 40 Year Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" and "Forgetting Sarah Marshall") and both are - as every actor is in Apatow's universe - sidekicks by nature. Which fits, because, for director John Hamburg, they're again both playing fringe-dwellers of differing stripes: Peter Klaven (Rudd), a low-flying Hollywood real estate agent, has just proposed to Zooey (Rashida Jones), but is perplexed by the fact that, unlike Zooey, he has no close pals of his own sex. The efforts to find him some are comic (Hamburg deftly skirts the borderline of homophobia), and an interlude with "Reno 911's" Thomas Lennon is hilarious. But once he discovers Segel's semi-slacker Sydney Fife, Peter also discovers brotherly companionship and, as a result, romantic discord.
The idea behind the story is solid and will probably reverberate with a lot of men (who are this movie's target, of course). Men have fewer close friendships than women, and that lack can cause one a bit of worried self-reflection. Hamburg thus slips a semi-solid foundation under the shivering timbers of his comedic construct, with its delicate heroes, outright hilarity and all those shudders of vicarious embarrassment.
(R) (3 STARS)
PLOT After he realizes he has no male friends, sensitive bridegroom-to-be hooks up with a cool guy who complicates his once-orderly life.
CAST Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Jaime Pressly
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE Men are, again, idiots, but director John Hamburg ("Safe Men") injects just the right amount of wit into the mix of awkward male/perpetual loser comedy.