November 12, 2008

Movie Review: Role Models

rolemodels1_largeLast year comedian David Wain graced a limited number of screens with The Ten, a comedy he co-wrote with fellow comedian Ken Marino that took aim at the Ten Commandments. It's irreverent tone and skit-based nature encouraged critics to compare it to the Monty Python troupe, although the comparison was not always positive. In any case, that movie slipped through theaters barely making a ripple on the expansive surface of the cinema. A year later, Wain has returned to the big screen in wider fashion with Role Models, a film that wants to be irreverent, touching, and laugh out loud funny all at the same time. Unfortunately, the film tries to be all of those things and in doing so fails to be truly any of them.

Seann William Scott is Wheeler and Paul Rudd is Danny. The duo are co-workers with an energy drink company, their job involves going around to schools pushing the drink as a safe alternative to using drugs. Wheeler is an adult version of Stifler, Scott's character in the American Pie films. He exists in a perpetual state of arrested development, enjoys his job, which involves wearing a bull costume, not to mention his habit for womanizing. Danny, on the other hand, is unhappy in life, work, and love, growing ever more cynical.

rolemodels4A perfect storm of contrived events conspire to get these two on the wrong side of the law. To avoid jail time they agree to do community service at the local branch of Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother styled organization that pairs adult men up with young boys in need of a role model. And yes, I am sure that a couple of would be convicts are just the right kind of guys to be providing guidance. I guess they needed some way of getting the kids and the adults together.

Wheeler gets paired with a foul-mouthed youngster named Ronnie (Bobb'e J.Thompson), while Danny gets the LARP-addicted (that's Live Action Role Playing for those not in the know) Augie (Superbad's Christopher "Mclovin" Mintz-Plasse). Now, wouldn't you know it, the four misfits grow on each other, eventually coming to understand their counterpart and expand their horizons beyond the boundaries they have put up around themselves. How terribly original it all is.

Role Models is nothing we haven't seen before, and that feeds into the film's problems. It is like watching all those inspirational sports dramas, you know exactly what is going to happen well in advance of it actually happening so you have to make a choice early on as to whether or not you want to buy into the process. What helps you make that decision is how well the early scenes are presented, if they are well written or acted to the point that you can find yourself becoming interested in them. The early scenes are a key part to the success or failure of a formula film.

rolemodels1The early scenes, extending well towards the middle of the film, do Role Models a wonderful service. The movie displays an edginess that wants you to believe this is going to be something just a little bit different. There is a fine use of profane language throughout, not quite to the poetic level of Soul Men nor the conservative full-frontal assault of Zack and Miri Make a Porno but still quite successful at setting a mood. The screenplay goes on to deliver some entertaining wordplay including some great lines for Jane Lynch, playing Gayle the former drug addict founder of Sturdy Wings.

The performances are fine. Scott has this type of role down pat, yet still manages to feel lively throughout. Paul Rudd also turns in a fine performance, he has some great deliveries and some fantastic facial reactions. The kids are fine, as well, particularly Mintz-Plasse who tones down the Mclovin' to give us a character eminently believable in his LARP-loving ways and his need to escape reality. I was also impressed with how the LARP jokes were not of the mean-spirited variety.

Problems begin to mount in the latter half to a third of the film. That edge that was displayed early on fades to the background in favor of genre cliche's as we build towards a predictable climax. This is like a Judd Apatow production that did not get cleaned up on the way to the set. It strongly feels like a film that was informed by Apatow's work, taking a somewhat normal situation and injecting it with heart, raunch, and believability but took a wrong turn as it neared the finished product.

Bottomline. The movie is not a waste nor is it an actual success. It is a film that strives for more than it is but falls just short. There are better films out there, but you could do far worse than this. The performances of the leads are what make this film worthy of your time, not the story.

Mildly Recommended.


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