Thursday, November 13, 2008

Role Models



In a year already packed with great comedies from Ben Stiller (“Tropic Thunder”), Kevin Smith (“Zack & Miri Make A Porno”), and Apatow Productions (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” “Pineapple Express”) a little movie about two friends who find themselves in a court-ordered charity that pairs volunteers with maladjusted children sounds like just another attempt to cash in on those aforementioned talents. Surprisingly, “Role Models” more than holds its own in this riotous comedy.

The film opens with Danny (Paul Rudd) and Wheeler (Sean William Scott) working as pitchmen for an energy drink company. As per the strict regulations of buddy comedy, they are polar opposites; Wheeler is a laid-back lothario who adores his job because of its simplicity, while Danny is confrontational and bitter.

After a particularly hellish day, the pair find themselves on the verge of a prison sentence and Danny finds himself without a girlfriend. To avoid jail, the two head to the aforementioned charity Sturdy Wings, founded by Gayle Sweeney (Jane Lynch), an ex-con and recovered addict. Danny gets paired up with a fantasy-absorbed teen named Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse of McLovin fame), and Wheeler gets matched to the terrible tyke Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson).

Naturally, nobody gets along at first. Danny is uncomfortable with Augie’s obsession with capes and foam swords and a strange club of like-minded nerds that plays like a Renaissance Faire in which everyone fights one another, while Ronnie simply views Wheeler as the latest toy to break. Eventually, they come to respect and even love one another and everyone learns something about themselves. This could have easily devolved into cliché, but “Role Models” rises above thanks to its inventive humor.

Foul-mouthed children is hardly a new concept to R-rated comedy, but the frequency with which Ronnie drops F-bombs is surprising. He’s so vulgar and self-assured you can almost believe that Wheeler would take him to an adult party and that he would fit in. Scott puts in his finest work since the first “American Pie, and Paul Rudd- adept at playing off others- manages to have chemistry with everyone. Jane Lynch plays Gayle like a person who never really recovered from addiction, to the point that, even in total sobriety, you find yourself wondering if she is using.

But once again it’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse who steals the show by making a devotion to a real life World of Warcraft actually touching and for getting in some memorable lines. Indeed, his hobby becomes the gag on which the movie hinges; Augie’s struggle to fit in and to win his parent’s acceptance is the closest this film comes to depth.

The film has obviously been cut down for ratings and time purposes. The problem is that they seem to have cut out all the transitions. The gang go from mortal enemies to dear friends over the course of…what? They just do. There’s not even a montage, for God’s sake. Likewise, Dany’s girlfriend (played by Elizabeth Banks) and Ronnie’s mother are terribly underdeveloped even though they seem like they could have easily been interesting characters. Such editing gives the movie a choppy feeling, and it exists more as a series of gags than a cohesive film.

Still, there’s no denying the funniness of “Role Models.” It’s half-hearted attempt at depth fails, but that cannot bring down the constant laughs. Scott reminds us why we used to love him, and Mintz-Plasse proves he is the king of the nerds. It’s not as funny or rewarding as “Zack & Miri,” but that’s no reason not to see this hilarious flick.

1 comment: