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.

7 comments:

Dustin said...

"I don’t do drugs, but I would if I told kids not to."

That's great (knowing the way the systems that get-in-touch with kids operate), and that's coming from someone who actually listened to the D.A.R.E. programs growing up.

James said...

Even though everyone I know mocks D.A.R.E., for some reason people have decided that unwanted pregnancies are entirely the result of right-wing political influence that keeps children from learning the facts about reproduction.

Dustin said...

James, I know you've talked and argued politics with many-a-people, and I know you no longer bear any illusions about changing minds through this kind of debate, but if you've ever argued about sex education with anyone and gotten more than two steps into it without being struck by this blame, then I would truly be amazed. Liberals who read this can correct me otherwise, but the liberalism I've encountered has been adamant with a capital "A" that abstinence education and any kind of restriction on condoms is the greatest self-destructive folly being perpetrated by the right. I don't even argue the issue, it's such a lost cause, and what kind of ground is there going to be gained? The schools are so far out of conservative hands, it's not even a battle anymore. I think maybe the only recourse is when parents get angry with their local school systems.

James said...

I suspect that one of the reasons the abstinence education issue is so widely ridiculed is because it is of relatively minor concern in the political scheme of things and concerns a topic in which it is easy to mock proponents.

Consider a right-wing cause such as lowering taxes or protecting gun rights. One could ridicule a proponent of the flat tax as greedy or a Second Amendment supporter as deranged, but these are weak assertions that fail to stick outside of the Daily Kos message boards.

On the other hand, one can accuse supporters of abstinence only education of being sheltered fundamentalists who are woefully out of touch with the realities of sexual behavior. Mocking Christians (Obama excluded, of course) has become the sport of choice amongst many on the left, particularly the verbose types naive enough to think schools can do anything to alter base human behavior in the first place.

Personally, if it were up to me public schools wouldn't teach anything about sex, leaving the burden to parents and Dad's not-so-secret porno stash. One of the great successes of the American left is the way in which they've managed to dictate what is and isn't taught, which at this point means that if it aids left-of-center dogma, then its fine, and if it doesn't, then dismiss it as the screwy machinations of right-wing crackpots.

Ramin said...

Just my two cents, I think the liberal knee-jerk reaction to "abstinence-only" education is completely natural given the often extreme nature of its supporters.

I now think "Conservative Christian" is an oxymoron. There is nothing right-wing about christian fundamentalists at all, nor do I think they should be called "Christian" even. They are socialists parading around as patriots. Consequently, I don't blame unwanted pregnancies on the religious "right".

Given that these so-called "christians" who are supposedly "conservatives" have taken hold of the otherwise virtuous and respectable Republican party, the schools are very thankfully under the complete control of the political left.

Religious extremists have several inroads to our schools, two of which are "intelligent design" and "abstinance only education", but their end goal is to teach that Jesus is God as a fact not a belief.

As if our education system didn't have enough problems.

Anyway, I look forward to seing this movie.

Ryan said...

Strangely, I feel myself inclined to agree with you all though my political slant could be described as diametrically opposed on most topics. (Except guns, I LOVE guns.)

I think James said it best by pointing out that sex education is a relatively minor issue in anyone's platform, meaning that anyone defending it is probably the type who would take an axe to the walls of their house to dig out the termites.

Being the crazy liberal I am (and currently living in Minnesota) I like to fall back on the Al Franken arguement that there really isn't a time when kids are physically old enough to have sex and young enough not to understand that IF they have sex they should probably use protection.

However, I don't know we got to this tangent, I wanted to blast James for making fun of foam sword fighting. Jerk.

No seriously, you're right we're a bunch of geeks. Though most of us have had plenty of opportunities to see naked women and wish we could brain bleach several of them away. Ah well, that's what the heavy drinking is for in many cases.

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