Decked out in a shades-and-shorts ensemble, sporting a scraggly beard and projecting an amiable-stoner vibe, Paul Rudd creates an amusing younger variation of Jeff Bridges’ The Dude from The Big Lebowski as the title character in Our Idiot Brother, which works like gangbusters when it concentrates on the idiot brother but falters badly when it comes to the “our.” So unfailingly trusting and forthright that he opens the movie by selling dope to a uniformed cop, Ned (Rudd) finds himself homeless and unemployed when he’s released from prison, forcing him to bunk with each of his three sisters (Emily Mortimer, Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel) in turn. You’ll bust a gut as his moronic candor makes their shallow lives hell, then go all warm and fuzzy when his pure example magically transforms them into kinder, better people in time for the closing credits.
Or that’s the idea, at any rate. Unfortunately, Rudd’s gift for goofy obliviousness (taken here to heights unseen since Wet Hot American Summer 10 years ago) clashes badly with the film’s spiteful, at times downright hateful depiction of Ned’s sisters, who come across as such shrill Gorgons that you half-expect the poor guy to lose his glass slipper at the ball. It takes some doing to make these three actresses seem so unpleasantly awful; the cruelty of the caricatures curdles the comedy, despite Rudd’s valiant efforts to treat existence as one endless dopey lark. If only his performance could be airlifted into a movie that wasn’t so idiotically misconceived.