‘Our Idiot Brother’ more gentle than goofy

THE TITLE RUBE in "Our Idiot Brother" will be tagged as an updated Forrest Gump, but his roots go all the way back to Voltaire's original dope, Candide.

Candide, you'll recall, goes from naive optimist to shell-shocked pessimist to a man who says "we must cultivate our garden."

This is tellingly where Paul Rudd, as idiot brother Ned, starts out. He's a hippie on an organic farm, busted at a farmer's market for selling pot to a uniformed police officer.

After a stay in county, Ned finds his rusticated girlfriend has a new organic beau, so Paul is off to the New York suburbs to live with family - passed from his dotty mom to his sisters in succession. There's an ambitious writer (Elizabeth Banks), flaky artist (Zooey Deschanel) and stay-at-home mom (Emily Mortimer).

Bumbling Ned fosters one disaster after another - ruining one's career, another's relationship (with Rashida Jones) and one's marriage (to Steve Coogan).

Or does he?

It may be that Ned is only revealing problems that predate his arrival.

So who's the idiot now? Well, it's still Ned, at least according the movie's title, which is a bit of a problem. The word "idiot" and the goofball TV ads raise expectations for some high-concept, lowbrow comedy.

And also something harsher than writer-director Jesse Peretz intends. "Brother" is (very) leisurely, character-driven, very gentle in spirit, and sentimental - a big emotional scene finds Ned reuniting with a dog named Willie Nelson.

And it's built around the subtle, laid-back work of Rudd, a natural counterpuncher who's always been a little uncomfortable with leading-man dynamism.

In the right role ("I Love You, Man") Rudd's unique style works very well. "Idiot Brother" is . . . almost right.

Produced by Anthony Bregman, Peter Saraf and Marc Turtletaub, directed by Jesse Peretz, written by Eugenia Peretz and David Schisgall, music by Nathan Larson and Eric Johnson, distributed by the Weinstein Company.

Our Idiot Brother

Directed by Jesse Peretz. With Elizabeth Banks, Kathryn Hahn, Hugh Dancy, TJ Miller, Zooey Deschanel, Rashida Jones, Shirley Knight, Emily Mortimer, Paul Rudd, Steve Coogan. Distributed by The Weinstein Company.

Running time: 1 hours, 30 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for sexual content including nudity, and for language throughout).