Reel Opinions

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Role Models

I feel I should admit something up front - I have never seen the appeal of Seann William Scott. I didn't like him in the American Pie movies, not in Dude, Where's My Car, and most certainly not in The Dukes of Hazzard movie. For a long time, I questioned what people saw in the guy. But in Role Models, he finds the right character at last. He's very funny here, and actually kind of sweet to the point that the performance started to grow on me. That in itself is a small miracle. An even bigger miracle is that the movie itself is consistently funny.

2008 has been a great year for adult comedies, with films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Tropic Thunder and Sex Drive delivering a lot of genuine laughs. There have been some films I haven't been able to fully get behind, like the recent Zack and Miri Make a Porno or Pineapple Express, but even those films had their merits. I think Hollywood is finally starting to understand how to make a comedy targeted at adults, without having to go overboard on the gross out factor. (A problem that plagued a lot of R-rated comedies the past few years.) A lot of this has to do with comedy producer and writer, Judd Apatow, who was involved with a few of the films I mentioned above. He was not involved with Role Models, but one of the film's main stars, Paul Rudd, has worked with him a lot and has obviously learned from him. Rudd is credited as the head screenwriter of the film, and his co-writers and him should be credited for creating a script that finds humor in the characters and the things they say, instead of broad situations.

In the film, Rudd and Scott play Danny and Wheeler respectively, two friends and co-workers who drive around to different elementary and middle schools promoting an energy drink called Minotaur. Danny is a bitter pessimist, believing there's more to life than trying to convince kids not to take drugs and to drink energy drinks instead. Wheeler, whose job involves dressing up in a Minotaur costume and dancing around while Danny speaks to the kids, is perfectly happy where he is in life. Danny's bleak view on himself and the world is starting to affect his private life as well, which causes his live-in girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks, in her third film in about a month) to move out. The heartache over the break up leads Danny to crash the company truck the two men use to drive to different schools, and they find themselves facing a prison sentence for destroying school property and resisting arrest. Fortunately, Beth is a lawyer, and she is able to give them a second option of filling 150 hours of community service with a Big Brothers-type child mentoring program called Sturdy Wings.

When Danny and Wheeler enter the program and meet the head of the organization, the movie shows its comedic invention. The head and founder of Sturdy Wings is a woman named Sweeny (Jane Lynch), a former coke addict who's a bit too open about her troubled past, and mixes inspirational and hopeful messages with horror stories of her drug-riddled former life. In a comedy such as this, we expect the head of the organization to be a hard-nosed tyrant, but the character here and the performance by Lynch is a wonderful surprise and gets the first of many big laughs. After this, we are introduced to the two kids that they will serve as mentors to. Danny is assigned to a nerdy teen named Augie Farks (Christopher Mintz-Plasse from Superbad), who is obsessed with an elaborate fantasy role playing game where he and other obsessed individuals dress up in costumes, speak in bad Old English, and battle each other in the park. As for Wheeler, he gets stuck with the organization's most troubled kid, a little black boy named Ronnie Shields (Bobb'e J. Thompson), who talks as if he got his pre-school influence by watching old Richard Pryor comedy concerts instead of Sesame Street.

Once again, with the introduction of the kids, Role Models could have gone wrong and did what we expected, but it doesn't. It manages to go a little bit deeper into the characters of Augie and Ronnie, and make them a little more than just the cliched "nerdy kid" and "vulgar kid". Both of the kids give fine comic performances here, even if Christopher Mintz-Plasse is pretty much giving the same "McLovin" performance he did last year in Superbad. I'm hoping he won't become another Jon Heder, who is supposedly doomed to repeat his breakout Napoleon Dynamite role in almost every movie he does. His performance still works here at least, as does young Bobb'e J. Thompson, who finds the right note in his performance so that we're laughing at and not offended by the words coming out of his mouth. It's a tricky balance to pull off, and Thompson does so, which leads me to believe he'll have a long career in comedy when he gets older if he desires it.

As for Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott, they also deliver some of their better comic performances I've seen in a while. I've always admired Rudd, and here he plays a great relative straight man with a darkly sarcastic look on life, who learns to open up and be more accepting of others. And as I mentioned before, Scott brings a likable almost child-like quality to Wheeler, a man whose mental maturity peaked when he was 14, and is more than willing to preach the virtues of rock group Kiss to anyone who will listen. They have great chemistry with each other, and with their younger co-stars. There's a lot of energy in the performances and this, combined with the genuinely funny dialogue, carries over to the audience. I also liked the little comic touches, such as the way the guy who plays the "King" in the fantasy role playing game frequently hangs out at a burger joint in costume, and has his followers (also in costume) feeding him and wiping his mouth for him.

The end of the year is usually reserved for big budget family films and Oscar hopefuls, so I'm hoping a little comedy like Role Models will not go unnoticed. The fairly large audience I saw it with seemed to be having a great time, so it does have the potential to be a word of mouth sleeper hit. If it does, it will be easy to understand why. This is light and fun entertainment that manages a lot of big laughs and never takes a wrong step. It may have a lot of competition, but Role Models is still one of the funnier films of the year.

See the movie times in your area or buy the DVD at!



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