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“How to Lose Friends”? Make a wimpy satire

Simon Pegg and Kirsten Dunst have "a shared moment" in the wimpy "How to Lose Friends."

Simon Pegg and Kirsten Dunst have a "shared moment" in the wimpy "How to Lose Friends."

If I were to be kind, I’d say “How to Lose Friends and Alienate People,” based on Toby Young’s razor-sharp 2003 memoir on his failed writing stint at Vanity Fair, is a passable, uninspired romantic comedy masquerading as a satire. But I don’t want to be kind, mostly because screenwriter Peter Straughan wastes boatloads of promise on mindless slapstick. No, “How to Lose Friends” is, in fact, a toothless satire that devolves into an insipid, grating rom-com with a paint-by-numbers ending. Simon Pegg (so great in “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead”) figures prominently in said ending, starring as Sidney Young, a British tabloid journalist who takes a job at NYC’s Sharps Magazine, owned by tycoon Clayton Harding (a ho-hum Jeff Bridges). A rebellious, “principled” writer, he ignores the magazine’s caste system and clashes with everyone, including snarky but kind coworker Alison (Kirsten Dunst), a slimy editor (Danny Huston) and a sexpot young actress (Megan Fox). Director Robert B. Weide ruins good performances — Pegg is droll and delightful; Dunst is sweet, not cloying; Fox is, well, a fox who understands comic timing  — with far-too-long gags involving pig urine, a dead Chihuahua, half-masticated sandwiches and more. Ugh. Go see “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” instead; expect twice the bite and half the crushing disappointment.

Grade: D-

It’s hard out there … for a sidekick

“I’m here trying to squeeze a dollar out of a dime, and I ain’t even got a cent, man.”

Oh, how I do love a self-fulfilling prophecy. It seems that actor Terrence Howard, who rapped this very line in his Oscar-nominated performance as DJay in “Hustle & Flow,” has been scrapped as Jim Rhodes in the sequel to this summer’s wildly “Iron Man.” The reason? According to Marvel Studios, it’s all about a disagreement over — you guessed it — the Benjamins. Or lack thereof.

But there is a slight glimmer of hope. (Just how slight depends on whether you can appreciate so-understated-they-get-stuck-in-tiny-secondary-parts actors.) Marvel has tapped Oscar-nominated “Hotel Rwanda” star Don Cheadle (a.k.a. Basher Tarr in all, oh, 17 “Ocean’s” films) as Howard’s replacement.

Wait. Stop. Rewind. Don CHEADLE? As an ACTION HERO? Have we slipped into a parallel universe? Will Lindsay Lohan portray Madeline Albright in a future biopic?

I thinketh not. I am jumping on the Don Cheadle-as-Jim Rhodes bandwagon. Why? For starters, Cheadle’s an actor who gives performances that are layered, where the meaning is there but viewers have to work to find it. He’s understated, subtle even; he never chews up the scenery. Howard did much the same thing in “Iron Man”; he was yin to Robert Downey Jr.’s yang. The role calls for someone capable of delivering one-liners without stealing the entire spotlight. That’s something Cheadle can do in his sleep. Plus, Cheadle’s done everything from political dramas (“Hotel Rwanda”) to indie flicks (“Manic”) to spy thrillers (the recent “Traitor”). The guy’s got range that’s ridiculous, and he’s got talent to burn.

So here’s to hoping Cheadle lights it up in the sequel. If I’m wrong? Well, everybody’s gotta have a dream, right?