DreamWorks // 2003 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // December 22nd, 2008
All the fun of college, none of the education.
Old School was released in February 2003 to modest expectations, but the film made a surprising $75 million and gave legs to one supporting actor's film career. It's even spawned a cult following of sorts on video. And with the film's Blu-ray release, is Old School worth KY wrestling for?
Old School was written by Scot Armstrong and Todd Phillips (Starsky & Hutch), and the latter directed. Mitch (Luke Wilson, Vacancy) returns early from a business trip only to find his girlfriend Heidi (Juliette Lewis, Natural Born Killers) in the middle of a sexual tryst. With the help of his friends Beanie (Vince Vaughn, Mr. & Mrs. Smith) and Frank (Will Ferrell, Blades of Glory), Mitch gets a house of his own near a university. When he's forced to vacate the house by the school's dean (Jeremy Piven, Cars), Mitch and the guys go to extremes to stay there by starting their own fraternity. Designed to contribute nothing to the university while recruiting some of the less desirable elements of the community, Mitch, Beanie and Frank continue to battle with the dean for control of the house, even as the guys try to keep their fraternity under wraps from their daytime jobs and significant others. Banter! Humor!
I understand why some people like Old School on a certain level. Frank, Beanie and Mitch are just turning 30, trying to grasp the fun of university life one last time and finding some other kindred spirits before fully committing to the real world -- I get it. I also like seeing Elisha Cuthbert (24), Ellen Pompeo (Grey's Anatomy) and Terry O'Quinn (Lost) in earlier roles. Those are the good things about Old School five years later.
It makes me sad that the bad stuff outweighs the good. I'm in the minority that doesn't find Old School funny. I didn't then, and I sure don't now, as time has let this film wither on the vine. It was fine that the story was barely plausible when it first came out, but now it sets up jokes that aren't funny and helps to serve as another reminder of why Ferrell is the most overrated comedian to come from Saturday Night Live in several years. I admire some of his film choices, but I've seen most of his films, and I've liked Elf and Anchorman since he left SNL. That's it, that's the list. Since 2006, he's made the same movie, and lately has been doing it with John C. Reilly. The bloom's off the rose, Will. It's time to move on.
To echo something I mentioned earlier, the jokes are not funny. Will Ferrell gets drunk and shows his junk; woo hoo. Mitch deals with Mark (Craig Kilborn), who is Nicole's (Pompeo) boyfriend. The best way I can describe Kilborn's performance is that he acts...like a guy who was on ESPN's SportsCenter for a minute. When it comes to laughs, Old School is like Hardbodies with slightly less nudity, more top line names, and a couple elements of Fight Club thrown in. Ferrell's ad-libs aren't funny, and Phillips' direction doesn't make the film any funnier. In fact, take a look at this film, compare it to Phillips' Road Trip, and tell me if you see anything different. It's a challenge, that's for sure.
Old School was previously released on HD DVD, and the 2.35:1 widescreen presentation presumably uses the same MPEG-4 AVC that the HD DVD did. Blacks tend to look inky and deep at times (Frank's wedding being one of those), but other times they crush quite a bit. The image detail is lacking for a film that's fairly recent, and the background depth and dimension is nonexistent. The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is another disappointment, with dialogue sounding weak in the center channel, and ambient sound effects being next to nil during the film, with no subwoofer activity and little speaker panning. If you're thinking about double-dipping -- or triple-dipping, in case you bought the HD DVD -- you should reconsider.
On the supplemental side, the extras from the standard definition version have been brought over to the high-definition discs. Phillips, Ferrell, Vaughn and Wilson unite for a commentary that's boring and symptomatic of the barren humor of the material. Vaughn is practically a ghost during the track. You've got an "Old School Orientation" (13:02), which is the closest thing to a studio-produced making-of piece that you'll find on the disc. It has the requisite cast interviews in which they discuss working with one another. Ferrell plays James Lipton in an "Inside the Actor's Studio" piece, which interviews Philips, Wilson, Vaughn and (in split-screen) Ferrell. Yawn. Eight deleted scenes (13:19) are next. Aside from a decent scene of character exposition for Beanie, they offer nothing of real value. Same goes for the outtake/blooper reel (5:04). Four TV spots and the film's trailer (2:29) round the disc out.
Vaughn's ad-libbing in the film has always been personally appealing. Listening to him go off-script, you get the impression that he's playing a guy who talks a lot of smack, doesn't know what he's saying all of the time and is willing to put the blame on others for things he says. Sometimes all of this occurs within a 30-second span. Beanie's the veteran of relationships among the three guys, and even though his wife Lara (Leah Remini, The King of Queens) doesn't appear to be horrible on the outside, Beanie convinces Frank and Mitch that she has a succubus-like reputation. This is due to Vaughn, and he remains the only funny thing about Old School five years later.
Why do people seem to like Old School after all these years? The jokes aren't funny, the performances (save for Vaughn) are uninspiring, and the story's not worth a damn. Speaking of not being worth a damn, the audio and video on this Blu-ray are negligible and the extras are boring. It's not worth seeing if you haven't, and if you have, it's not worth the purchase.
Guilty as charged boys. Go streak the quad or something.
Review content copyright © 2008 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Audio Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Making-of Featurette
* Inside the Actor's Studio Spoof
* TV Spots
* Official Site