Film Reviews: Wednesday, November 05, 2008
Paul Rudd is underdressed for a medieval battle, while Christopher Mintz-Plasse is properly attired in Role Models.

Role Models
Starring Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott. Directed by David Wain. Written by Paul Rudd, David Wain, Ken Marino, and Timothy Dowling. Rated R.
Rudd Alert

There’ll be plenty of laughing (and LARPing) at Role Models.


I never thought I’d characterize a movie as essential viewing for both live-action role players and KISS fans, and yet here Role Models manages to appeal squarely to both groups and make it look easy. I don’t fall into either camp myself, but I still found much to laugh at in this comedy. For those of us who don’t run around in weird costumes, that’s a pretty good recommendation.
Most comedies about single guys who are suddenly forced to take care of kids are either about men-children who need to learn how to take adult responsibilities or about old grouches who need to learn how to get in touch with their inner kid. This movie gives us both stories for the price of one. The prematurely crotchety guy is Danny (Paul Rudd), a 10-year sales rep for an energy drink company who hates himself and his job so much that his girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks) breaks up with him because she can’t take his negativity anymore. The arrested-development case is Wheeler (Seann William Scott), Danny’s best friend and co-worker who accompanies him to schools dressed like a minotaur so they can shill their horrible product — which turns Danny’s pee green at one point — to middle-school kids. Wheeler’s perfectly happy in his job because he can do it hung over, but he’s forced to stop working for a while after Danny’s run-in with a tow-truck driver leaves the two friends sentenced to community service, mentoring children at a Big Brothers-like organization called Sturdy Wings.
It’s about damn time somebody let Paul Rudd star in a Hollywood comedy. Now 39, he’s a terribly good-looking guy and a fine dramatic actor, which explains why he spent the 1990s and the early part of this decade in boring conventional lead roles (Clueless, The Object of My Affection, The Shape of Things). It was only when he played the genital-nicknaming Brian Fantana in Anchorman four years ago that people started to notice how funny he can be. Since then, Rudd has proven his comedic versatility. He can do straight-out clowning (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Walk Hard) or play the straight man and react in a humorous, coolly detached way to the hilarity going on around him (Knocked Up). He can even do both within the same movie (The 40-Year-Old Virgin). This film — which Rudd also co-wrote — finds him working more in his subtle vein, underplaying Danny’s pissy self-loathing and nicely counteracting the fuzzy, life-affirming story around him.
Director/co-writer David Wain knew about Rudd’s comic skills way before Judd Apatow did, having cast the actor in his 2001 cult comedy Wet Hot American Summer. Fans of that movie should note that Role Models has quite a bit less gay camp, though Wain’s spoofy attitude toward stale Hollywood story conventions remains. The early proceedings here thrive on the crisp interplay between Rudd, Scott (in solid form), Banks (adding an undercurrent of anger to an otherwise bland part), and Jane Lynch as a recovering cokehead who’s Sturdy Wings’ founder. Lynch brings both chirpiness and toughness to a character who hilariously thinks everyone’s “bullshitting” her — indeed, she seems unclear as to exactly what the term means.
The movie really takes off when the guys are paired off with kids. Wheeler is assigned to mentor a profanity-spewing 10-year-old named Ronnie (Fred Claus’ Bobb’e J. Thompson). Too often when kids say curse words in movies, it’s merely a failed attempt to be cute or shocking. Ronnie, however, is drawn as a boy who’s covering for his insecurities about his dad leaving him, which makes his misbehavior play as real.
Meanwhile, Danny draws Augie (Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse), an older kid whose whole life is about LARPing, in which people dress up as medieval knights and do battle with fake swords. The movie’s surprisingly respectful of Augie’s love for this pastime, though the filmmakers don’t ignore the comic value of grown men in capes, crowns, and chain mail poking each other with giant bits of foam rubber. The climax of the film takes place at the year’s biggest LARP battle, with the mentors and mentees forming their own fictitious kingdom and fighting as one, and it makes for a rousing set piece.
I haven’t mentioned how Wheeler’s love of all things KISS-related plays into the plot because it’s too convoluted and too good a joke to give away. I will say it leads to Danny serenading Beth with a bad Ren Faire arrangement of “Beth,” which serves as a fitting end to this romp. Role Models never quite busts out of its mold, but its surplus of obscene comic invention makes it yet another generic Hollywood comedy that delivers the goods. There’ve been quite a few of those this year (including but not limited to Get Smart, The House Bunny, and Zack and Miri Make a Porno), and you can argue that it’s the strength of the run-of-the-mill stuff rather than the masterpieces that tells you where a genre is. For the past year or so I’ve been hearing that American comedy films are peaking, but only now am I starting to believe it.

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