Judge Eric Profancik thinks that the terms "Unrated" and "Ballbuster" should never, ever go together.
Somebody's Gonna Get Schooled!
The cover for School for Scoundrels has the following quote from Rolling Stone: "Bad Santa meets Napoleon Dynamite." There are two ways to infer the meaning of that statement. The more obvious is that the lead actor from the former movie is teamed up with the lead actor from the latter. The second is that the mean spiritedness of the first movie combines with the nonchalant goofiness of the second. In either case, School for Scoundrels is the meanest movie since Bad Santa and the goofiest since Napoleon Dynamite.
Facts of the Case
Roger (Jon Heder, Napoleon Dynamite, The Benchwarmers) is an easygoing, sweet loser. Bullied at work, intimidated on the streets, and unlucky in life, Roger is an avid reader of self-help books in hopes of changing his sad lot in life. Joining his other baggage is his extreme shyness, which gets in the way of his attraction to neighbor, Amanda (Jacinda Barrett, Poseidon). One day after his third Little Brother dumps him, Roger gets a phone number to a man who might be able to help him.
Enter Dr. P (Billy Bob Thorton, Bad Santa, Sling Blade). Dr. P, along with his assistant Lesher (Michael Duncan Clarke, The Green Mile), runs a special, secret class for wimps. In this class he berates, belittles, badgers, beats up, and imparts such dating bons mots as "Be dangerous, it's cool;" "Relate to her;" and most importantly, "Lie, lie, and lie some more."
After his initial confusion of what this class is about and why he's there wears off, Roger soon becomes a star pupil. Soon thereafter, Dr. P finds out about Amanda and decides he'd like her for himself. But when Roger finds out, it's no longer teacher and student but a knuckles-bared man vs. man fight for her affection and the right to be a lion.
Just to make sure you know I was being facetious, School for Scoundrels is not the meanest movie since Bad Santa, nor the goofiest since Napoleon Dynamite. The underlying premise of the movie is interesting, Thorton and Heder give good performances, and there are moments of nasty fun; but the overall result of the movie is a big letdown. It falls apart just when it should be ramping up the insanity, and the ending will completely take you out of the moment for its sheer level of ridiculousness—in a bad way.
I do like the premise of a school that teaches weak men to butch up and be more assertive. It has funny possibilities, and the movie does actually explore a few of them. The rare instance when we are actually in school watching Dr. P lecture are good, but even better are the times we watch the men go outside the classroom for real world lessons. The peak moment is when the men partake in a paintball game, and they realize the joy of shooting each other at point blank range. When school's in session, the movie works.
It works because Thornton now has the mean guy shtick down to a science. One moment he's the biggest ass around, the next he's a likable bud, and then the next he's pouring on the charm, sweet-talking a woman. Thorton is readily able to tap into his acting bag and pull out a great performance, even for the weakest of material. On the other hand, Heder seems forever stuck in his infamous dy-no-mite role. I've seen three of this movies (Dynamite, Benchwarmers, and this one), and in each he's simply playing a variation of the lovable loser. Perhaps in other work he has done other personalities, but I've seen him no other way. Luckily he does it well, and you like the guy for being such a wimp and you want him (or Pedro) to win. Together, Thornton and Heder have great chemistry and work well off each other, first as teacher and student and later as archrivals.
Scattered throughout School for Scoundrels are funny moments, like the aforementioned paintball scene. The problem is that there aren't enough of them. By the time we get around to Dr. P and Roger fighting over Amanda, it's a good hour into the movie, and you're ready for war. However, the fight isn't as inspired and cutthroat as it could be. Worse, there's just not enough of it. This is the point of the movie, where two men go to war over a woman, but it's more of a little skirmish than protracted combat. We should be sitting in disbelief at what these two are doing, but all we end up saying is "That's it?"
Even if you give the mano a mano combat the benefit of the doubt, it's for naught when we arrive at the big climax in an airport. I won't describe said finish, but let's just say that in today's 9/11, TSA, Homeland Security day and age, what happens in this airport is sheer impossibility. You know the hurdles and security measures now in place, and how these people do what they do simply cannot happen. You know this, and you also know it's a movie, but you can't ignore it because it's so completely wrong to reality. Because of this, you're thinking more about airport security than the final fight between the boys.
This idea provides a segue to the bonus materials, for one of the included items is an alternate ending. The alternate ending gets us to the same resolution but without all the blatant liberties in airport security and is thus a better choice. Why this one wasn't chosen (probably because you have to give Amanda and not the location the benefit of the doubt) over the real ending was an extremely, extremely poor choice. It single-handedly ruins the movie.
What other bonus items are there? Top of the menu is an audio commentary with writer/director Todd Phillips (Road Trip, Starsky & Hutch) and writer Scot Armstrong (Old School), which I found a tad boring and self-serving. Next is "The Making of You Didn't See on TV," which is a pure promotional, fluff piece. Rounding out the special features is an unfunny gag reel and the theatrical trailer.
For the transfers on the disc, they are average for today's new releases. While I didn't detect any significant errors on the 2.35:1 anamorphic print (the train scene did exhibit a bit of flicker), I was not impressed by it either. Colors were accurate but not rich, details were acceptable but not crisp, and blacks were just black. The same goes for the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, which gets every word across clearly in this dialogue-intensive film, but it doesn't do much more than that.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you happen to give this one a rental, here's a heads up for you. You'll probably notice it, but it's worth a mention to show you how the movie forgets itself for an obvious joke. When Roger and Amanda go out to dinner, what's the second lie that he tells her? Keep that in mind for when Roger meets up with "Dennis" and Amanda at the tennis court. What's the first question he asks Amanda about "Dennis"?
Take a look at the cover for the DVD at the top of this review. See Thornton/Dr. P doing the big "loser L"? While the intent is for him to be calling Heder/Roger a loser, he's more accurately demonstrating the best adjective for this film. School for Scoundrels should and could have been a nasty, funny movie, but it lost its steam and turned into a ridiculous yet limp farce. Though the movie does have some good moments and Thornton and Heder have excellent chemistry, I think this one is a wee waste of time and you're better off skipping it.
School for Scoundrels: Unrated Ballbuster Edition is hereby found guilty of not busting enough balls.
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Studio: Genius Products
• Audio Commentary
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