*** (out of 5)
November 7, 2008
Seann William Scott as WHEELER
Paul Rudd as DANNY DONAHUE
Christopher Mintz-Plasse as AUGIE FARKS
Bobb’e J. Thompson as RONNIE SHIELDS
Elizabeth Banks as BETH
Jane Lynch as GAYLE SWEENY
Directed by: David Wain
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
It seems that almost every film that comes out that falls in the realm of the sex comedy genre gets labeled under the Apatow banner… even if Judd Apatow and company had nothing to do with it. Certainly, the guy has redefined the modern sex comedy, with movies like “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” becoming the “Porky’s” and “Revenge of the Nerds” of today. But Judd Apatow is not responsible for every funny movie in the theaters today.
Take, for example, “Role Models.” The first thing you’ll notice is that it stars some folks famous for Apatow movies, like Paul Rudd and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (who is McLovin from “Superbad,” for those who don’t read the cast lists). However, Apatow had nothing to do with this film.
The folks responsible for this film are Rudd and his director David Wain, who first came on the large-scale comedy scene with the MTV sketch show “The State” in the early 1990s. Other members of the state went on to found “Reno: 911!,” so they are in good company.
“Role Models” tells the story of two thirtysomething slackers named Wheeler (Sean William Scott) and Danny (Paul Rudd) who get into a scrape with the law. To avoid jail time, they agree to do community service and get hitched with Sturdy Wings, a mentoring program similar to Big Brothers/Big Sisters.
Wheeler and Danny are given two very difficult kids – one a dorky high schooler who wants to live in a fantasy world, and the other a foul-mouthed kid with abandonment issues. Over the course of their mentorships, Danny and Wheeler start to bond with the kids and want to become a better part of their lives.
Yeah, I know the story actually sounds pretty cheesy, but it’s not that bad at all. In fact, when it comes to R-rated comedies, this one doesn’t pull its punches, especially in the beginning. The movie isn’t exactly a sex comedy like “Sex Drive,” which rolled into theaters a few weeks ago. However, there’s some nudity and plenty of sexual references to make you laugh if you like that sort of thing.
Instead, the movie has some heart – in fact, too much at times, which bogs it down a bit. It means well and manages to not preach much at all. To make another Judd Apatow reference, “Role Models” is what “Drillbit Taylor” should have been if it had gone for an R rating instead of the safe PG-13.
The cast is brilliant in this movie, and they are what carries the film. Both Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd are entirely in their element, playing versions of characters we’ve seen before. However, the real impressive performances come from Mintz-Plasse in his full McLovin glory and Bobb’e J. Thompson who can swear up a verbal storm that would make Anna-Nicole Smith blush from beyond the grave.
Jane Lynch, who plays the reformed drug addict in charge of Sturdy Wings, also steals the show with her off-kilter character. It’s a shame that Lynch doesn’t get more notice by audiences today. She’s added so much to many films over the year – from “Best in Show” to “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” I’ve seen few of her films that don’t make me laugh.
The only cast member who doesn’t hit it out of the park is Elizabeth Banks, who just phones in her performance as Danny’s ex-girlfriend. Banks has been given a lot of screen time over the past few months (with “W.,” then “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” both currently in theaters). However, she hasn’t managed a real stand-out performance yet.
The only other problem I had with “Role Models” is that it revels so much in its own geekiness that the charm actually gets in the way of the movie. There’s a pretty significant subplot with McLovin being involved in a LARP (Live Action Role Playing game), in which participants dress up in battle gear and fight with foam swords. These things are entirely real, and I’ve known some pretty involved LARPers in my life. However, I’m not sure if the filmmakers are poking fun at this hobby or giving it some props from the editing room.
In the end, the LARP storyline becomes tedious, and the film overstays its welcome after the climax. However, the unapologetic raunchy attitude and clever crassness saves the movie from its own self-inflicted wounds.