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I Love You, Man (R) ***

Sydney Fife (Jason Segel, center left) and Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd, center right),  his new friend are having a blast at a Rush concert, but Peter’s fiancée Zooey Rice (Rashida Jones, bottom right), not so much in the comedy “I Love You, Man.” Photo Credit: Scott Garfield.
Sydney Fife (Jason Segel, center left) and Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd, center right),  his new friend are having a blast at a Rush concert, but Peter’s fiancée Zooey Rice (Rashida Jones, bottom right), not so much in the comedy “I Love You, Man.” Photo Credit: Scott Garfield.

By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

I Love You, Man is the first Hollywood comedy built around the concept of the ”man date” — an occasion The New York Times once succinctly described as “two heterosexual men socializing without the crutch of business or sports.”

Man dates are exactly what the real estate agent Peter (Paul Rudd) has to go on after he realizes he lacks a single close friend to be the best man at his upcoming wedding. A sudden craving for male camaraderie is not what spurs the all-around nice guy into action: Only after he overhears his fiancee Zooey (Rashida Jones) and her girlfriends gossiping about his lack of guy pals does Peter take a pro-active role in finding a buddy.

The resulting quest is hilarious and socially astute, because co-writer/director John Hamburg (Along Came Polly) keeps the story grounded in a Judd Apatow-ish reality that never edges into the surreal. Rudd, usually cast as wisecracking smart-asses, turns Peter into a marvel of believably nerdy awkwardness. The character is instantly likable because his niceness is not pushed to cartoonish extremes, but he’s completely believable as a guy so unused to hanging out with male cronies he can’t even pull off a proper knuckle bump.

Relying on his gay younger brother (Andy Samberg) for help, Peter embarks on a series of getting-to-know-you-but-only-as-a-friend encounters with several men, all of which prove fruitless. But during an open house, Peter befriends the tall, intriguingly odd Sydney (Jason Segel). The men exchange business cards, and after much fretting and hand-wringing, Peter builds up the courage to call Sydney and ask him if he’d like to hang out, so they can get to know each other better.

The humor in I Love You, Man comes from watching Peter trying to live up to the societal expectations of the drooling man-child — the profane, immature, slobbish way men behave when women are not around. The shaggy, laidback Segel is a perfect foil for Rudd’s endearingly uptight dweeb, and their budding friendship neatly mirrors the trajectory most romantic comedies follow with their central couple. That formula is what makes I Love You, Man so disquietingly, persistently funny: Platonic, purely heterosexual man-love finally has its own movie.

Cast: Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Rashida Jones, Andy Samberg, Jon Favreau, Jane Curtin, J.K. Simmons, Lou Ferrigno.

Director: John Hamburg.

Screenwriters: John Hamburg, Larry Levin.

Producers: Donald De Line, John Hamburg.

A DreamWorks Pictures release. Running time: 104 minutes. Vulgar language, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.

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