Role Models (2009, Universal)
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Role Models is a classic example of a “yeah, but” movie. As in:
“Aw, Christ, not another raunchy bromance comedy.”
“Yeah, but Paul Rudd is in this one.”
“And so is Stifler. I hate Stifler!”
“Yeah, but it was directed by David Wain.”
So on and so forth. This type of movie usually has just cool enough of a concept to trick you into seeing it, but can’t stick the landing well enough to justify its existence. In this case, however, it pleases me to report that the “yeah, buts” have it — Role Models is very funny, sometimes uproariously so, and it manages to avoid any of the buzz-killing filler that bogged down like-minded films such as, say, Wedding Crashers.
The movie manages to succeed in spite of the fact that it doesn’t ask any of its leads to do anything they haven’t already done in a dozen movies — Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, and Jane Lynch all fall back on the screen personalities that made them famous — and despite relying on kiddie profanity for much of its humor. It works for two reasons: One, Rudd, Scott, and Lynch are very funny, and two, a cute little kid saying horribly nasty things is also very funny. Role Models has a tired plot and it makes pitifully poor use of Elizabeth Banks, but it doesn’t matter — Wain knew all he had to do was put his (largely improv-trained) cast in front of the cameras, turn them loose, and wait for the laughs to arrive.
Rudd’s an immensely likable actor, but he works best when offering a few tablespoons of droll seasoning as a supporting player in someone else’s film; Scott, meanwhile, can be entertaining in the right setting, but watching him play minor variations on Stifler for the last 10 years has gotten pretty old. Role Models circumvents both of these problems by essentially making Rudd and Scott supporting players — they’re in almost every scene, but once their characters get the plot rolling, they fade into the mix with the rest of Wain’s talented ensemble, offering pretty much everyone who has any lines the chance to be funny.
The setup is simple: Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Scott) are co-workers for an energy drink company that pays them to drive around to middle schools and deliver motivational “say no to drugs” presentations. Danny, who handles the speeches, hates his job, himself, and everyone around him; Wheeler, who dresses up in a furry minotaur costume, is a happy-go-lucky horndog. When Danny’s girlfriend (played by Banks) responds to his spur-of-the-moment proposal by dumping him, the stage is set for a confrontation with a middle school security guard (Louis C.K., in a split-second role) that ends with the co-workers sentenced to 150 hours of public service at Sturdy Wings, a Big Brothers Big Sisters-type organization headed up by an addle-brained recovering addict (Lynch, of course).
From here, the film lets Rudd and Scott’s young charges — an awkward, role-playing teenager named Augie Farks (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and a hostile, unbelievably profane grade-schooler named Ronnie Shields (Bobb’e J. Thompson) — drive the action. Mintz-Plasse is essentially playing a sweeter version of McLovin, but he does it well, and his character’s obsession with a D&D-style live-action game called L.A.I.R.E. helps move the plot along, as well as delivering many of the movie’s funniest bits (and providing an opportunity for Jo Lo Truglio and Ken Jeong to pop up in memorable supporting roles). Thompson, meanwhile, steals every scene he’s in, and even fulfills a longtime fantasy of mine by slapping Scott square in the face. Hard. (I almost stood up and cheered.)
As I said, the plot is made entirely of recycled ingredients, and you’ll spot the heartwarming ending coming from at least half an hour away, but Role Models does what it’s supposed to do — make you laugh — and it has the good sense to keep the inevitable sad self-realization portion of the proceedings limited to a brief montage. At an hour and 40 minutes, it’s just about the perfect length for this type of movie (take note, Judd Apatow), and the nudity is pleasantly gratuitous. It’s probably nothing you need to see more than once, but it has plenty of rental value.
If you do feel the need to purchase Role Models, you’ll be rewarded with a healthy chunk of bonus material; Wain’s improv-friendly style of filmmaking lends itself to plenty of extra footage, and he delivers here, bundling a bunch of bloopers and alternate takes in with the requisite deleted scenes (some of which are as funny as anything in the movie), as well as a segment titled “In Character and Off Script” that features some of the choicest unused improv bits. There’s also a fairly entertaining on-set documentary, as well as a commentary track from Wain, and an unrated version of the film that adds four “outrageous” minutes to the theatrical cut. All in all, if you’re looking for some laughs and you want something funnier than, say, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, this will do the trick. (The studio’s publicist hastens to remind me that you can also play the Role Models Babe Watcher game.)