Thursday, November 13, 2008

Role Models (2008, David Wain)

(originally written for a work newsletter)

When I first heard the premise for Role Models- a pair of slackers get ordered by the courts to become mentors to troubled youth- I didn’t have much hope for it being good. It seemed like something out of high-concept Hades, reminiscent of a cheesy 80s-era sitcom. Yet somehow, Role Models makes it work. With a game cast, it’s that rarity- a comedy that’s not just funny but legitimately likable.

Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott star as Danny and Wheeler, a pair of thirtysomethings who pay the bills by hawking energy drinks in public schools. Depressed after being dumped by his longtime girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks), Rudd crashes the company truck, landing them in court with two options- a month of jail, or community service. Naturally, they choose the second option, and wind up in the "Big Brothers/Big Sisters"-esque "Sturdy Wings" Program, where each is paired up with a "little". Wheeler’s young charge is straight out of the comedy playbook, a ten-year-old named Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson) with a mouth like a sailor. But Danny’s "little" is more surprising- a high school social leper named Augie, who devotes all of his free time to a medieval role-playing society that requires its members to dress up and do battle with makeshift swords and axes. Needless to say, the court-ordered mentors have their work cut out for them.

The film’s story is formulaic enough that the ending is more or less a foregone conclusion. However, there’s a lot of fun to be had along the way, provided you’ve got a taste for raunchy humor, including plenty of profanity from the young scene-stealer Thompson. Most of the movie coasts along on the strength of its jokes and gags, which hit more often than they miss. But it’s in the final reel or so that Role Models kicks into overdrive, as Augie enlists Danny, Wheeler and Ronnie for the "Battle Royale," in which all of the members of the role-playing society take the field to fight each other to the simulated "death." I’d go into more detail, but I’d hate to spoil the fun.

And in the end, Role Models is a lot of fun, courtesy of its talented stars and a handful of ringers in the supporting cast. After years of dependable supporting work, Rudd makes the most of the lead role here, and Scott is better than he’s been since the American Pie movies. Among the supporting players, Jane Lynch is memorable as the founder of "Sturdy Wings", who has an alarming tendency to bring up her old drug addiction at inappropriate moments. But best of all is Mintz-Plasse, who became a cult figure as Superbad’s "McLovin", here playing an even more awkward character this time around. Like Danny, we can’t help but look at him with dumbstruck awe when we first meet him, but as the story progresses, we grow to really like the kid and his unorthodox hobby. Role Models is a nice surprise, not least for all of you unreformed KISS fans out there. You know who you are.

Rating: 7 out of 10.


Jason_alley2 said...

...And you can certainly count me in with all the unreformed KISS fans.

"It's called 'Love Gun' and it's all about Paul Stanley's dick!"

Paul C. said...

Yeah, that was pretty awesome. Finally, KISS gets the big-screen homage they deserve, instead of the crappy Detroit Rock City.

Also, I should have predicted how the movie would end as soon as I heard Elizabeth Banks' character's name, but oh well.