Last year comedian David Wain graced a limited number of screens with The Ten, a comedy he co-wrote with fellow comedian Ken Marino taking aim at the Ten Commandments. Its irreverent tone and skit-based nature encouraged comparisons to the Monty Python troupe, although the comparisons were not always positive. In any case, that movie slipped through theaters barely making a ripple. A year later, Wain has returned to the big screen in wider fashion with Role Models, a film that wants to be irreverent, touching, and laugh out loud funny all at the same time. Unfortunately, the film tries to be all of those things and in doing so fails to be truly any of them.
Wheeler (Seann William Scott) and Danny (Paul Rudd) are co-workers at an energy drink company. Their job involves going around to schools pushing the drink as a safe alternative to using drugs. Wheeler is an adult version of Stifler, Scott's character in the American Pie films. He exists in a perpetual state of arrested development. He enjoys his job, which involves wearing a bull costume, and has a habit for womanizing. Danny, on the other hand, is unhappy in life, work, and love, growing ever more cynical.
A perfect storm of contrived events conspires to get these two on the wrong side of the law. To avoid jail time they agree to do community service at the local branch of Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother organization that pairs adult men with young boys in need of a role model. And yes, I am sure that a couple of would-be convicts are just the right kind of guys to be providing guidance. I guess they needed some way of getting the kids and the adults together.
Wheeler gets paired with a foul-mouthed youngster named Ronnie (Bobb'e J. Thompson), while Danny gets the LARP-addicted (that's Live Action Role Playing for those not in the know) Augie (Superbad's Christopher "McLovin" Mintz-Plasse). Wouldn't you know it, the four misfits grow on each other, eventually coming to understand their counterpart and expand their horizons beyond the boundaries they have put up around themselves. How terribly original it all is.
Role Models is nothing we haven't seen before, and that feeds into the film's problems. It's like watching all those inspirational sports dramas. You know exactly what is going to happen well in advance of it actually happening so you have to make a choice early on as to whether or not you want to buy into the process. What helps you make that decision is how well the early scenes are presented, if they are well written or acted to the point that you can find yourself becoming interested in them. The early scenes are a key part to the success or failure of a formula film.
The early scenes, extending well towards the middle of the film, do Role Models a wonderful service. The movie has an edginess that leads you to believe this is going to be something just a little bit different. There is a fine use of profane language throughout, not quite at the poetic level of Soul Men or the conservative full-frontal assault of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but still quite successful at setting a mood. The screenplay goes on to deliver some entertaining wordplay including some great lines for Jane Lynch as Gayle, the former drug addict founder of Sturdy Wings.
The performances are fine. Scott has this type of role down pat, yet still manages to feel lively throughout. Paul Rudd also turns in a fine performance with some great delivery and some fantastic facial expressions. The kids are fine as well, particularly Mintz-Plasse who tones down the McLovin to give us a character eminently believable in his LARP-loving ways and his need to escape reality. I was also impressed with how the LARP jokes were not of the mean-spirited variety.
Problems begin to mount halfway through the film. The edginess fades to the background in favor of genre cliches as we build toward a predictable climax. This strongly feels like a film that informed by Judd Apatow's work, taking a somewhat mundane situation and injecting it with heart, raunch, and believability, but one that took a wrong turn as it neared the finished product.
Bottomline. This movie is not a waste nor is it an actual success. It's a film that strives for more than it is but falls just short. There are better films out there, but you could do far worse than this. The performances of the leads are what make this film worthy of your time, not the story.