Thursday, November 13, 2008

Role Models: Model misbehavior

Role Models (2008) • View trailer for Role Models
2.5 stars (out of five). Rating: R, for smutty sexual content, nudity and relentless profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 11.13.08
Buy DVD: Role Models • Buy Blu-Ray: Role Models [Blu-ray]

Try as they might, some actors just aren't meant to be stars.

Paul Rudd is one of them.

He might best be remembered for his semi-regular gigs on TV's Friends and Reno 911, or his supporting performances in high-profile comedies such as Night at the Museum and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Would you want these two clowns spending time with your kids? Rather than
endure a 30-day stint in the slammer, Danny (Paul Rudd, center left) and
Wheeler (Seann William Scott, center right) agree to participate in a mentoring
program; they wind up assigned to, respectively, a geeky teen named Augie
(Christopher Mintz-Plasse, left) and an aggressively foul-mouthed fifth-grader
named Ronnie (Bobb'E J. Thompson). Rudd's morose expression in this photo
pretty much sums up the film's entire mood.

Rudd is not, however, leading man material.

He very nearly sinks Role Models, but in fairness this half-hearted comedy doesn't represent impressive effort on anybody's part, from its largely listless cast to David Wain's apparently disinterested direction.

Even the usually irrepressible Seann William Scott, such a hoot in the American Pie series, can't do more than muster up a pale imitation of his randy character from those films.

The script is credited to Rudd, Wain, Ken Marino, Timothy Dowling and William Blake Herron ... which is at least two names too many, and a certain sign that the finished product has been re-tweaked beyond any hope of salvation.

And it'd be a total loss were it not for the presence of — are you ready for the irony? — its two supporting players.

Both Christopher Mintz-Plasse and young Bobb'E J. Thompson are a hoot 'n' a holler: far funnier and much more interesting than Rudd and Scott. Mintz-Plasse and Thompson also are much better actors, and the latter's only 10 years old.

Rudd and Scott star as Danny and Wheeler, two frontmen for Minotaur energy drinks. Wheeler, with minimal career goals, has a great time dressing up as the company's minotaur mascot during the countless "Don't do drugs" school assemblies that fill their days. Danny, on the other hand, views his 10 years with the company as a sign that his life has gone nowhere.

Danny's increased self-loathing finally poisons his seven-year relationship with girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks), who dumps him.

With this as a catalyst, Danny drags Wheeler into an "incident" with the Minotaur company truck; the result is a sentence of 150 hours of community service in a mentorship program called Sturdy Wings, clearly modeled after Big Brother.

Trouble is, the film spends too much time allowing Danny and Wheeler to run their potty mouths in front of small children and random adults. This is, one assumes, supposed to be the height of humor. It isn't; in fact, it grows increasingly uncomfortable.

On the other hand, the crude sexual references and staccato F-bombs are hilarious coming from the mouth of young Ronnie (Thompson), the overly aggressive fifth-grader Wheeler is assigned to mentor. Ronnie's behavior starts out as shocking and eventually settles into just plain funny.

Danny, on the other hand, winds up with Augie (Mintz-Plasse), a neurotic high school nerd whose every waking moment is consumed by live-action medieval role-playing with like-minded teens and adults, a sort of permanent Renaissance Faire clique populated by similarly arrested adolescents.

But Augie has the potential to actually grow up, not to mention a sweet disposition that adds some genuine poignance to this otherwise stiff flick. Just as he did in Superbad, as the kid who made himself a memorably terrible fake ID with the name McLovin, Mintz-Plasse nails his dork behavior here with superbly timed precision.

And the moment we spot the cute girl (Allie Stamler) in adorable Ren Faire garb, who has caught the terminally shy Augie's eye, we can confidently assume that at least one character in this story will wind up happy.

Getting there, though, is painful. Rudd's Danny is an unrelenting downer throughout the entire film; he remains sulky even when he's supposed to be smiling.

Wain actually builds some momentum into the third act, which is primarily concerned with a huge medieval melee that (we hope) will allow Augie to come into his own. The scene gets some added juice when our four heroes enter the fray while dressed up as the members of KISS, the glam rock band whose smutty lyrics have fueled Wheeler's entire philosophy of life. (Funny as he has been until this point, the sight of young Thompson is KISS makeup will have you on the floor.)

If the entire film showed the sparkle of its third act, and if Mintz-Plasse and Thompson somehow could have been elevated to star status, Role Models might've had some genuine juice.

As things stand, sadly, it's just another reminder that Rudd needs to recognize his own limitations.

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