Universal // 2008 // 102 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // March 10th, 2009
Taste the beast!
When I saw that I was going to be reviewing Role Models, I tried to think of all the actors who've done mentoring comedies. After about four dozen names popped into my head, I stopped counting.
The mentoring comedy formula rarely deviates: A guy who can barely take care of himself is, due to some trumped up circumstance or another, forced to care for/educate/protect person or persons at-risk, younger, or otherwise unlike himself. Mutual mistrust and contempt blossom into respect and affection. Life lessons ensue, with everyone learning from everyone else. Humor springs from the differences between mentor and mentorees, various pranks played, and the quirkiness of the characters.
Most of the comedic possibilities were long ago mined, so mentoring comedies rely heavily on the charms of their stars -- Adam Sandler, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jack Black, Danny DeVito, Owen Wilson...etc. Do Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott have the charm and chops to carry off yet another variation on this theme, or is Role Models just a digital trip to derivative hell?
Danny (Paul Rudd, Clueless) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott, Southland Tales) work for the Minotaur Energy Drink company. They go around to high schools to promote Minotaur as part of a "just say no" program ("Say 'no' to drugs and 'yes' to Minotaur"), Danny in a suit giving the pitch, Wheeler parading around dressed like a beast.
Wheeler is a simple sort. He likes his job, dead-end though it be, and he enjoys partying and having sex with various women. Danny, on the other hand, is a miserable guy, inexplicably involved with beautiful lawyer Beth (Elizabeth Banks, Fred Claus).
Danny's sneering pessimism finally gets to Beth, and she breaks up with him. Danny goes a bit off the deep end, and he and Wheeler end up being arrested. Facing jail time, they can stay free if they successfully volunteer with Sturdy Wings, a group run by manic ex-drug addict Sweeny (Jane Lynch, The Rocker) that matches up emotionally needy children with adults to mentor them.
Wheeler is matched with foul-mouthed and streetwise 10-year-old Ronnie (Bobb'e J. Thompson, Idlewild), which seems to work, since they're both at about the same level of emotional maturity. Danny's charge is Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Superbad), a dorky teen whose life revolves around a live medieval role-playing game, Laire.
While Wheeler and Ronnie bond over talk of "boobies," "booty," and other babe-related topics, Danny's bitterly cynical outlook doesn't help -- or get helped by -- the nebbishy Augie. Will these man-boys help these "Littles" -- and maybe grow up a bit themselves in the process?
As far as mentoring comedies go, Role Models breaks no new ground, but it works pretty well thanks in no small measure to its leading men.
It's great to see Paul Rudd top-lining a comedy after turning in so many memorable supporting performances in films like Anchorman, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin. His Danny is a wonderfully realized modern-day misanthrope. Rudd's straight-ahead deadpan approach to this character and his natural charisma save Danny from being a completely unlikable creation. We understand why the beautiful and level-headed Beth leaves him, but we also see why she stayed with him as long as she did.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of American Pie, and of the original cast, Seann William Scott is one of the few who has consistently worked and has retained much of his dorky, youthful charm. I don't think we'll see him doing MacBeth anytime soon, but he's well-honed his good-natured stoner persona. He plays Wheeler with a guileless vulnerability that makes him a perfect foil for the sardonic Danny.
As the kids, Thompson and Mintz-Plasse match their more experienced co-stars every step of the way, with Thompson already developing into a real scene stealer. Mintz-Plasse has all the noble-eyed sincerity of a genuine LARP geek, chuckling over silly jokes about "the whispering eye" and deadly serious about the Battle Royale he and his "kinsmen" are due to fight. Best of all is Lynch's Sweeny, who's a tad too proud of her formerly sleazy life and misses no opportunity to "inject" it into her conversations.
The film follows the blueprint we've come to expect from the mentoring genre. We meet the guys and get examples of their quirks and flaws; the incident occurs that causes them to become mentors; they have rocky starts with their charges; buddydom occurs; a crisis happens that tosses everyone asunder; and problems are resolved in time for a big final sequence in which one character fulfills a long-standing dream.
Fortunately, the script, by Rudd and Director David Wain, along with actors Ken Marino and Timothy Dowling, focuses more on character and situation than on gags. It helps that Rudd, Wain, Marino, Lynch, Mintz-Plasse, Banks, and others here have worked together before -- Role Models has a comfortable, lived-in feel to it that makes it funnier and less canned. This is not a great film, but it's a very good one and a lot of fun.
We get the original R-rated version and the Unrated one. The Unrated Role Models is three minutes longer than the R-rated one, but I couldn't tell you what was significantly different between the two; I'm guessing the Unrated gave us a few more seconds of nudity and a bit more profanity, but I didn't see anything that would elevate it to an NC-17.
Universal's disc offers up a good transfer and audio, as you'd expect from a recent film. There's a whole smattering of extras, and your appreciation of them should relate exponentially to your enjoyment of the film. We get the usual Deleted Scenes (a couple of which could have stayed in the film, including one of Danny and Wheeler in jail) and Outtakes, as well as a blooper reel. "On the Set" is a typical and brief "behind-the-scenes" featurette, and "Game On: Creating a Role Playing World" is an interesting look at Laire. "On the Set and Off Script" are amusing improvs, with A.D. Miles, Joe Lo Truglio, and Matt Walsh doing shtick while in character (they play a Sturdy Wings volunteer and two Laire players). There's a decent if unenlightening commentary from Director David Wain on the R-rated version but not on the Unrated one. Sadly, subtitles and audio options are not accessible from the remote on either version of the film, so if you want to toggle back and forth between the commentary and the movie, you have to go back to the main menu. Frequently.
I know it's a formula, and I know it largely works, but did this have to be so formulaic? I mean, not only do we know what's going to happen plot-wise, we know exactly when it's going to happen, right down to the hackneyed music montages. I enjoyed Role Models, but those "let's buddy up over a lame pop song" sequences have been done to death.
Speaking of formulas, am I the only one who's getting a little tired of the Judd Apatow "outrageously foul"-style of comedy? Role Models is really a movie for 'tween and teen boys, but a couple of (unnecessary) nude scenes and a steady stream of profanities keep it far from the PG-13 realm. Frankly, after a while, the constant barrage of sex talk and "F" and "S" words becomes tiresome and starts to feel tacked on, as though not mentioning a body function every 143 seconds is going to rob the film of its "cred."
Time was, it was "funny" to hear old people curse, but I guess now it's kids. If Role Models were to play on broadcast TV, young Thompson's role would be re-imagined as a mute. Isn't there some kind of law about how many curse words, body part names, and sex jokes an 11-year-old can repeat over the course of a film? Hearing a kid curse every now and again is funny and surprising; hearing a kid curse every time he opens his mouth is a subway ride in New York. Thompson is an enormously talented child, and he'll likely be doing stand-up sooner than later, but when every punchline's an obscenity, it gets old fast.
While it's not exactly dripping in originality, Role Models is a fun film and a good showcase for its talented cast.
Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Official Site
* Babe Watcher game