Director : David Wain
Screenplay : Paul Rudd & David Wain & Ken Marino and Timothy Dowling (story by Timothy Dowling and William Blake Herron)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Seann William Scott (Wheeler), Paul Rudd (Danny Donahue), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Augie Farks), Bobb’e J. Thompson (Ronnie Shields), Elizabeth Banks (Beth), Jane Lynch (Gayle Sweeny), Ken Jeong (King Argotron), Ken Marino (Jim Stansel), Kerri Kenney-Silver (Lynette), A.D. Miles (Martin Gary), Joe Lo Truglio (Kuzzik), Matt Walsh (Davith of Glencracken), Nicole Randall Johnson (Karen), Alexandra Stamler (Esplen)
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that an R-rated comedy with the title Role Models features characters who are anything but. What is surprising, however, is what affably good fun the movie is despite its almost ridiculously by-the-numbers high-concept set-up that sounds like a perfectly horrid vehicle for Adam Sandler or Rob Schneider. And, despite having four credited screenwriters (including star Paul Rudd and director David Wain), Role Models plays with a level of steady confidence that makes it feel all of a piece, even as it shifts from juvenile humor to important life lessons. Perhaps because Wain (Wet Hot American Summer) has spent so much time mocking high-concept movies, when it comes time to actually make one, he knows how to, if not avoid the clichés, at least make them both funny and even mildly meaningful.
The “role models” of the title are Danny (Paul Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott), two stuck-in-a-rut thirtysomethings who make a living by driving a huge truck tricked out to look like a minotaur, the mascot of the energy drink they peddle to schoolkids under the guise of a “stay off drugs” program (this concept alone, which skewers both corporate “charity” and the drug war, is priceless in and of itself). While stuck in the same lot in life, Danny and Wheeler are complete opposites. While Danny is a morose depressive on the edge of genuinely cracking, Wheeler is a giddy womanizer who is so innocent in his zest for life that you can easily forgive his sleazier tendencies.
When Danny finally loses it at one of their presentations and winds up driving the minotaur truck onto a school statue, the two of them are sentenced to 150 hours of community service, which they are ordered to do via Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother-type program run by Gayle Sweeny (Jane Sweeney), a tough-talking (although not always coherent) drug-addict-turned-help-addict who comes across like a brain-fried drill sergeant. Danny is paired with Augie Farks (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, the erstwhile McLovin from Superbad), a withdrawn, geeky teen who only comes to life when role-playing in faux armor with dozens of other medievalists who take their fantasy worlds very, very seriously. Wheeler, meanwhile, is paired with Ronnie Shields (Bobb’e J. Thompson), a pint-sized vulgarian who seems to take special pride in running off big brothers who have the audacity to want to be his friend.
Given the movie’s narrative obviousness (Danny and Wheeler will probably learn to be better people as they genuinely befriend their two young charges, who will also learn and grow), its pleasure isn’t in the destination but in the journey. Role Models plays loose and easy, but not to the point of being lazy. It revels in crude jokes and upending cherished institutions, but at the same time it has an appealing earnestness that comes through in its wayward characters. Danny may be morose, but you can’t help but be amused by the sarcastic depths of his gloom and the way it comes out in perfectly snarky attacks on everyone around him (his deadpan assault on a coffee shop employee about the silliness of using haughty foreign words for cup sizes is priceless). Rudd manages to pull off here what didn’t work so well in Knocked Up (2006): the humor of misery. Similarly, the movie finds new depths to plumb in Seann William Scott, particularly by mining something that most of his movies have studiously avoided: his likability. Anywhere else Wheeler would have been nothing more than a one-note horn-dog, but Scott gives him an almost childlike wonderment that brightens with equal vibrancy in the presence of Kiss, his favorite band, and a perfectly shaped female breast.
Scattered around the main narrative is a host of amusing subplots and goofy details, many of which revolve around the medieval role-players that constitute Augie’s whole wide world. It would have been easy enough to make fun of these fantasy mongers, especially the adults whose prancing about in medieval gear smacks of arrested development, but Role Models quickly moves past obvious gags and manages to turn a massive staged battle with foam swords and cardboard armor into an unlikely chance for redemption for all involved, which is all the more moving for how absolutely hysterical it is.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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