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Review

‘Role Models’ has humorous moments, corny finale

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November 13, 2008

I must confess: modern comedy sucks. For every diamond in the rough, there is a wasteland of bad schtick and horrible puns. “Role Models” finds itself nestled into a profane little niche, a refreshingly delightful black-hearted little comedy that highlights the back-handed charm of misfits and misanthropes.

Danny (Paul Rudd) hates life. He hates his job, the empty feeling his failures have left him with, maybe even his best friend, Wheeler (Sean William Scott). The duo drive around to local schools pitching anti-drug slogans to auditoriums full of bored students, all in the name of Minotaur, the kryptonite-green energy drink they hope the kids will get addicted to instead. Rudd, one of the co-writers, sums up the job perfectly, “We sell nuclear horse piss for six bucks a can!”

After his 10-year anniversary party, Danny’s self-loathing superiority complex (Wheeler mocks him eloquently, “I hate myself but I’m better than everybody”) hits rock bottom as he lays into a group of complacent pupils, preaching to them to embrace the cavalier attitude and flip life the bird. Hopped up on an adrenaline sugar high from the miracle elixir, Danny and Wheeler find themselves facing several years of prison rape after an exaggerated traffic altercation. Danny’s ex (Elizabeth Banks, appearing in virtually every fall movie release) manages to get the court sanction down to 150 hours of community service at a Big Brother-type mentoring program.

Enter McLovin and the vulgar black kid. Wheeler gets paired with Ronnie, a boorishly crass little brat raised by kool-aid pacifiers and stereotypical images of the street. Danny gets Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), an introverted loser who spends his life live-action role-playing to an interactive renaissance faire. And, while Ronnie and Wheeler connect over the sexual overtones of KISS lyrics, Augie and Danny find themselves at odds. “I’m not really into the whole buddy buddy, let’s go do stuff thing!” Danny croaks as he simmers in his detest for life.

Let’s not bullshit ourselves here, though. There should be no-one watching “Role Models” that does not see the freight train light at the end of the celluloid tunnel, a quick and dirty moral message slapped up before the credits roll. The frayed edges are quickly sewn up, betraying the blackened comedic core. And it’s a shame. “Role Models” starts out at break-neck speed, gleefully straying from mundane political correctness. But halfway through, a switch is pulled, switching the tracks from off-beat to a fill-in-the-clichŽ mad lib of mediocrity.

But it’s easy enough to forgive the corny finale, a sappy R-rated sermon on the proverbial sullied mound. Director David Wain takes audiences to escape within a shallow rendering of reality; he abandons the viewer to his dark-humored cynicism, allowing for the choice to accept the banal story arc at face value: this is a funny movie where funny people elicit base reactions from males ages 13 to24. There is little else to say. There is no characterization, no life-altering ending message or monologue – that cheesy flavor poured over the third act is nothing but a saccharine attempt at moral justification.

But it is an unwarranted advocacy. Rudd and Scott bring the perfect flavor to the film’s particular interpretation of stupid. The laughs, although pretty formulaic, still land with enough frequency to make watching this, especially in a crowd of friends you can quote it with later, a worthwhile cure for a boring night. The unapologetic profanity masks the knucklehead charm, but the tired buddy-comedy gets just enough face-lift to act as a perfect opening cartoon for the heavy Oscar-season to come.

3 stars

Ken Weigend is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the Student Voice during spring semester 2010.