Role Models (2008)


(director/writer: David Wain; screenwriters: Paul Rudd/Ken Marino/Timothy Dowling/based on a story by Mr. Dowling and William Blake Herron; cinematographer: Russ T. Alsobrook; editor: Eric Kissack; music: Craig Wedren; cast: Seann William Scott (Wheeler), Paul Rudd (Danny), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Augie), Bobb’e J. Thompson (Ronnie), Elizabeth Banks (Beth), Jane Lynch (Gayle Sweeny), Ken Jeong (King Argotron), Alexandra Stamler (Esplen), Matt Walsh (Davith of Glencracken), Kerri Kenney-Silver (Lynette), Ken Marino (Jim Stansel), A.D. Miles (Martin Gary); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Mary Parent/Scott Stuber/Luke Greenfield; Universal Pictures; 2008)

“It climaxes poorly with a wishful pat ending. But by that time, the film had won me over.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A derivative, manic, profane, lowbrow comedy “buddy movie” with some spot-on high-concept moments that hold up fairly well until the third act (considering this sitcom foul-mouthed immature youth film is spawned from a legacy of crass Judd Apatow-type of films that never even attempt such high-concept moments, this rare attempt at gravitas in this genre should be welcomed). But it loses its appealing zaniness as it fills the screen with a weakly challenging Dungeons and Dragons medieval fantasy role playing game climax and all the usual predictable feel-good moments of gooey sentimentality come into play and gum up the works. Such lowlight moments take over and, finally, all the characters are reduced to mushy figures as the comedy wanes. It gives up much of the humor and high ground gained in previously offering a good combination of observant comedy and intelligent social conscience drama, as it climaxes poorly with a wishful pat ending. But by that time, the film had won me over.

Director David Wain (“The Ten”/”Wet Hot American Summer”) loses his grip on things when he keeps his commercial mainstream eye out to pleasing the target crowd instead of shooting for the moon with the nuttiness the film flirts with during its best moments. It’s written by the team of Paul Rudd, Ken Marino and Timothy Dowling. They base it on a story by Mr. Dowling and William Blake Herron.

Danny (Paul Rudd) is a 35-year-old unhappy camper, who feels he’s an underachiever and can’t help whining. His work partner is a happy-go-lucky, horny, skirt-chasing younger character named Wheeler (Seann William Scott). They work for Minotaur, a high-energy drink company that pushes its product in the local schools of Los Angeles by promoting it as a healthy substitute for getting high on drugs. The joyful idiotic Wheeler dresses in a puffy minotaur costume, while the cynical, pouting, clean-cut suit-attired Danny gives the middle-school children seated in the auditorium a humdrum phony “Just Say No to Drugs” pitch and tries to con them into buying the expensive energy drink.

When Danny’s foxy live-in lover, Beth (Elizabeth Banks), a lawyer, not only turns down his impulsive marriage proposal but moves out because of his negativity, Danny becomes unglued and goes berserk. He tells the school kiddies to take hard drugs and when the company’s monster truck is being towed as they leave the school speaking engagement, they both get arrested for obstructing justice when they retrieve their vehicle by force and crash it into a statue of a horse. Beth manages to get the judge to give the guys a choice of either serving a 30-day jail sentence or doing 150 hours of community service for a Big Brother-like organization called Sturdy Wings that’s run by the eccentric do-gooder former cocaine addict Gayle Sweeney (Jane Lynch). The blowhard energetic demented motor-mouth knows all the tricks of wise guys like these two (which she keeps telling us, in case we forgot) and keeps the immature boys on their toes as mentors with her weird interactions. The rest of the film follows their misadventures, which veer in a predictable course to acceptability as each is given a difficult child to mentor and fear that failure will mean prison time (as Wheeler, in particular, fears prison rape).

Danny gets assigned a fantasy-obsessed loner dork named Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), whose parents don’t understand him and offer no support; while Wheeler gets Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson), an angry foul-mouth aggressive black 10-year-old living with his single mom and though tough on the outside is fragile inside because he doesn’t trust men ever since he was abandoned by his dad. Ronnie acts like a middle-aged Gary Coleman on a profanity overdrive and his non-stop barrage of vulgarity starts off funny but by the end I had enough of his verbal abuse as he becomes more pitiful than funny–just like the film.

But despite falling apart with its sappy ending much of the crude comedy, featuring dick jokes and the like, was wonderfully executed (the timing by the leads was pitch perfect), and its heart is always in the right place sympathizing with both the nerd who finds pleasure in escaping from reality and the maladjusted child seeking attention. There was enough fun and humanity in it for me to pretend I liked the whole thing (even pretending it had sort of an overpowering Tod Browning “Freaks” theme, but without that film’s great dramatics or uniqueness or convictions–as you can only go so far in pretending).


REVIEWED ON 11/11/2008 GRADE: B-