Monday, December 01, 2008
424 - Role Models review
“Role Models” is the first comedy that I’ve seen in recent memory where character trumps vulgarity. Or maybe I’ve just seen too many vulgar comedies. “Role Models” contains a plethora of dirty words, some light-R nudity, and instances of appalling behavior. But unlike so many comedies now, the bad attitudes aren’t celebrated or intended to wound. Instead, the film takes pleasure in watching its characters acquire new outlooks, and when they wind up victorious, it’s earned instead of decreed.
Paul Rudd plays Danny, one of those pseudo-losers who has a midlife crisis at 35 after examining his existence and finding nothing but smoldering ruins. Rudd’s a fantastic character actor who as of recently specializes in playing misanthropes. No matter how immature these men seem to be, Rudd has a charm that makes them instantly sympathetic even at their worst.
Danny works as a shill for an energy drink company, running promotions with his pal Wheeler. Wheeler is played by Seann William Scott, which makes him sort of like Stifler, only without that character’s general malice. They drive a ridiculous truck from school to school, promoting sugar consumption in place of drug use. What do they do in-between stops? Smoke weed, of course. I don’t do drugs, but I would if I told kids not to.
After Danny’s girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks, apparently in every movie this year) rejects an impromptu proposal, he delivers a particularly blunt speech to a high school and crashes that ridiculous truck into a statue. The judge orders that Danny and Wheeler perform community service by participating in a Big Brother-style program run by Sweeny (Jane Lynch), a recovering cokehead who channels her addiction towards helping children. She’s patient with the kids, and hilariously less so with the grownups.
Danny draws Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, also known as “McLovin”), a hapless nerd obsessed with foam sword fighting. Ever been foam sword fighting? It’s where a bunch of geeks get together and pound each other with padded weapons. They call each other by goofy fantasy names and often fantasize about what naked women might look like in person (it’s awesome, I assured them). But what the movie leaves out is that they also get wasted and start fistfights, which makes it a lot cooler than it initially sounds.
Any ways, Danny must accompany Augie to foam sword combat, which leads to lots of faux-medieval duels and such. Wheeler draws Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson, and I double-checked this), a foul-mouthed 10-year-old who has chewed up and spit out his previous volunteers.
“Role Models” could have easily taken the low road. There could have been a mind-numbing series of crass gags where Danny and Wheeler expose the children to sex or encourage them to drink or behave poorly, but the film doesn’t do that. The humor comes from when the adults attempt to bond with the kids, from the difficulties of men detached completely from childhood learning to help out the youth. I particularly liked two scenes. One sees Danny standing up for Augie after the lad is treated unfairly by the foam game’s forty something staff losers. Another has Wheeler taking Ronnie to a party and neglecting his responsibilities. I couldn’t have been more surprised at the filmmaker’s restraint once the result came.
Most films, I suspect, would feature Danny and Wheeler as overgrown children themselves. Not here: losers, maybe, but they’ve seen a thing or two and know that they can help. “Role Models” ends with a sequence that’s ten minutes too long and five points too cliched, but we forgive it, because what came before was funny and more touching than we thought it would be.
Posted by James at 12/01/2008 05:15:00 PM