Frat Pack Tribute Movie Review: Role Models

Thursday, November 13, 2008
By Rick Duran

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Review

by Rick Duran

role-modelsIn his two previous outings, Director David Wain used absurdist humor, big ensembles and over-the-top endings, establishing him as one of independent film’s most notable comedy directors. In Role Models, Wain scales back the absurdist approach, showcasing that he can successfully apply his vision to a mainstream comedy. With a script co-written by star Paul Rudd, and an ensemble of talent from both Wain’s alumni from “The State” and Rudd’s Team Apatow roster, Role Models puts a foul-mouthed twist on a concept that other hands would have less from.

The film centers on Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott), two Minotaur energy drink salesmen forced to enter a mentoring program to avoid jail time after an altercation during one of their on-campus presentations. Danny is fed up with life; an irritated man saddened to see his life escape him, with an attitude that sent his live-in attorney girlfriend (the suddenly ubitiqous Elizabeth Banks) packing. Wheeler is the polar opposite, a Kiss-obsessed, tail-chasing partyboy with a much rosier outlook on life. Both men are assigned to mentor children with personalities opposite to their own; Danny is assigned a medieval-role-playing teenage nerd named Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) , while Wheeler is stuck with the F-bomb spouting, rambunctious 10 year-old Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson, the film’s breakout star.) On paper, this sounds like the Wedding Crashers substituting at the School of Rock; Old School of Rock, perhaps?

What sets Role Models apart from the aforementioned comedies is its ensemble, allowing even the smallest supporting performances to come away with some of the film’s best moments. The head of the mentoring program is played by Jane Lynch, in an off-the-wall performance that maker her 40 Year-Old Virgin character seem sane by comparison. Lynch’s hard-living, psychotic mentor supervisor certifies her stand as one of comedy’s funniest performers. One actor who best benefits from Lynch’s presence is The Ten’s AD Miles, playing a creepy mentor with no sense of the innuendos he implies. Other standouts are frequent Wain-collaborators Kerri Kenney-Silver and Ken Marino as Augie’s misunderstanding mother and her aloof boyfriend, as well as Knocked Up’s Ken Jeong playing the “King” of the rival medieval role-playing team taunting Augie’s group.

Rudd and Scott have a good chemistry as the film’s Odd Couple buddies. Fans have long wondered when Rudd would ascend to leading man status, and he does fine. However, some audiences may have a tough time with just how negative his character’s outlook is, a character trait he battles throughout the film. This aspect is what slows down the film’s first act, as we lead up to Rudd’s eventual meltdown that sets the mentor storyline in motion. However, this is exactly why audiences have come to love Rudd, as his snarky wit offers a hilarious point of view. Rudd’s coffee shop rant in this film is on par with his arguments versus Leslie Mann in Knocked Up. Scott’s character isn’t very different from the Stifler persona he’s played many times, but he does offer a very sweet charm that would normally be absent from this role. Wheeler is a well-meaning character, with a weakness for sex. An interesting angle the script takes is using Wheeler’s frat boy antics as both the bond and conflict between himself and young Ronnie. Cracking the crass shell of their Scott and Thompson’s foul-mouthed duo gives Role Models a heart that was absent in David Wain’s work.

Child performers are very sink or swim in mainstream comedies. They can often be faceless seat-fillers with flat delivery. The entire ad campaign for Role Models has showcased that Bobb’e J. Thompson is the scene-stealer, and that absolutely holds true. He’s a young, gifted comic who walks away with many of the film’s best lines (chances are you’re already quoting his lines from the trailer.) He’s brilliant hybrid of Bad News Bears and Chris Rock, one of the funniest child actors in years. Mintz-Plasse offers a character similar to the immortal McLovin’ debut role, but this time he has a more vulnerable take; a nerd without McLovin’s confidence, unaccepted at home or school. And this is why the film’s final “Live Action Role Playing” sequence is such a standout for the four leads (Rudd, Scott, Thompson and Mintz-Plasse.) Without spoiling too much, we see the weaker of the four take charge, and add an unexpected costumed spin to this battle, delivering one of the best film sequences of the year. Wain has delivered absurd endings before (a tornado in Wet Hot American Summer, a musical in The Ten), and the Role Models ending is one of the best moments of his career.

Role Models is not 2008’s best comedy, and there are some early pacing issues. But the film is an absolute crowd-pleaser and a huge showcase for some of the less-celebrated names in comedy (such as Joe Lo Truglio, who is replacing David Koechner as the go-to-for-cameo guy.) With its mix of big laughs, crude-language, heart, gratuitous nudity and face paint, Role Models is yet another winner of the current R-Rated comedy wave.

****

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