Grade: D+

A fellow like Simon Pegg could have a long, profitable career as part of a comedy team, or in secondary farcical roles, but as a romantic leading man he’s a complete bust. “Run Fat Boy Run” was excruciating, not least because of his crude, unfunny mugging, and “How to Lose Friends & Alienate People” isn’t appreciably better. Apparently the idea was to skewer the world of celebrity journalism in the same way that “The Devil Wears Prada” did that of high fashion reportage, but in the event the team of Pegg and Jeff Bridges prove no match for Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep.

Pegg plays Sidney Young, a brash gutter-dwelling scribe who’s unaccountably hired away from his tawdry London rag to join the New York staff of the slick magazine Sharps, run by media bigwig Clayton Harding (Bridges). Once installed in the Big Apple, however, he finds his saucy, unkempt style suppressed by his arrogant department head Lawrence Maddox (Danny Huston), who encourages him to kowtow to powerful agents like Eleanor Johnson (Gillian Anderson), but he can’t bring himself to sacrifice his rambunctious anti-establishment spirit to succeed in this new environment. Fortunately he has an ally, though one with problems of her own: co-worker Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst), who’s initially put off by him but gradually finds him endearing. It’s not long, of course, before they get together—rather unaccountably, given his personality.

This script, adapted from a novel by Toby Young (who based it on his years with Vanity Fair), has some potentially amusing side stories involving full-of-themselves celebrities, like the presumptuous young movie director that Johnson represents (played by Max Minghella) or the brainless blonde bombshell (Megan Fox) with the pooch she treats like a child, who lures Sidney into abandoning his so-called principles by offering him sex for helping her get an award for her performance in a mock Mother Teresa biography. But even these elements, which should have been foolproof, are treated with such heavy-handedness that they don’t take off.

Still, one rather looks forward to them simply because they take one’s attention from the central plot. The connection between Young and Olsen is strained from the very beginning: it’s almost unbelievable that their obligatory “cute” meeting is one of the hoariest devices of all, the accidental encounter at a bar in a city of some twelve million that’s followed by their shocked introduction at work the next morning. That’s bad enough, but things actually go downhill from there, especially in a subplot involving her affair with a married man (guess who?). And though Dunst is reasonably game, she obviously has difficulty working against Pegg, who’s idea of being charming apparently involves rolling his eyes and acting like a hyperventilating Benny Hill.

Nobody else brings much to the party, either. Bridges seems just to be doing a variation on his laid-back Lebowski character, but in a high-rise office, and Anderson, who’s attempting a Streep-like sense of hauteur, falls way short of the model. Miriam Margolyes overdoes things as Young’s landlady, but Bill Paterson brings brief respite as Sidney’s visiting father, a philosophy professor brought in to mouth the requisite speech about values versus compromise. His laid-back attitude suggests what an inspired helmer like Bill Forsyth might have made of this material: one hesitates to be too hard on Robert B. Weide, who’s a newcomer from television (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), for a failure to whip this material into shape with this cast; but certainly he hasn’t been able to overcome the handicaps he was handed. Technically the picture is okay, but neither John Beard’s production design nor Oliver Stapleton’s cinematography really captures the glossy atmosphere of the journalistic milieu.

A title like the one this movie is stuck with invites parody, just as “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” did back in 2003. I’ll resist the temptation and simply note that it’s just more bit of evidence that Simon Pegg should return to his old antics and leave leading-man status to those more suited to it. This isn’t “Prada,” but a cheap, crummy knock-off.