The prime reason to avoid the new Paul Rudd/Seann William Scott comedy "Role Models" is abundantly clear.
The film prominently featured a plot so formulaic and sentimental it was almost painful to think of: "Two slackers are forced to mentor oddball kids and they learn from the experience and become better people." There was no way this could be good.
The reason to make the effort to catch the film is hidden but ultimately triumphant: it's funny and the plot actually manages to work effectively.
Wheeler (Scott) and Danny (Rudd) represent two pretty standard approaches to late '20s/early '30s career mediocrity. The two are marketing representatives for Minotaur, an energy drink that's basically a Red Bull foil. Their job consists of going to elementary and middle schools to pitch their product alongside an anti-drug message. Wheeler gets to wear a Minotaur costume and dance around while Danny delivers their commercial in a suit.
Wheeler loves his job and lives a life of complacency, drinking and fornicating to excess. Danny has spiraled into depression and negativity at what his life has become. He argues with the barista when he insists that he wants a large coffee and not a venti. His frustrated longtime girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks) angrily reprimands him after his outburst. On a side note, is it just me or are the love interest characters in these sorts of movies frequently named Beth?
His relationship in jeopardy, Danny impulsively bursts in on Beth at work and proposes. She doesn't take it well and decides she's had enough. She breaks up with him and announces her intention of moving out of their shared apartment.
This act throws off an already unstable Danny. He blows up at one of their pitch sessions and ends up overreacting when their car is towed and he attempts to steal it back, eventually causing thousands of dollars in property damage. He and Wheeler are charged with multiple offenses and face 30 days in jail. How Danny manages to keep his job after the episode at the school and the crimes he commits is a plot hole I suppose I'll tolerate.
Beth, a lawyer and strangely still on good terms with Danny, negotiates with the judge that if the pair perform 150 hours of community service in a month then they can avoid jail time. In perhaps an even bigger logical plot hole, the two are assigned to act as mentors for a Big Brothers Big Sisters-like organization called Sturdy Wings. How does that work? What judge would decide to send criminals to befriend troubled kids? Who on earth would see that as a good idea? Only someone writing a comedy screenplay who wants an oddball scenario on which to hang some jokes.
When Wheeler and Danny get to Sturdy Wings they encounter the eccentric founder Gayle Sweeny (Jane Lynch, best known from her role as the boss in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin") who informs them she won't hesitate to veto their community service if they slip up. They also meet their "littles." Danny is paired with Augie Farks (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka McLovin from "Superbad,") a socially-awkward teenager obsessed with Lair, a live-action fantasy role-playing game that features costumes and mock swords. Wheeler is paired with problem child Ronnie (Bobb'e J. Thompson,) a kid who likes to swear, cause problems, and draw pornographic cartoons.
Cue stereotypical plot as these two misfits find meaning in their lives through developing relationships with children.
The film is consistently hilarious, generating strong laughs from its clever dialogue and odd characters. Lynch in particular is a scene stealer with her constant references to her former life as a drug addict.
Perhaps one of the strange paradoxes of the film's comedy is that continually up for satiric assault are characters who resort to clichés. Wheeler lives his life by an incoherent collection of hedonistic aphorisms. Similarly when Danny resorts to quoting "Jerry Maguire" lines to Beth she sees through him. It's odd that a film with so many of these jokes is one that itself has such a cliché of a plot and thematic makeup.
What surprised me most about the film is that it actually managed to generate some strong emotional moments. Danny and Wheeler are not the most original or endearing of recent male R-rated duos and we've seen frequently versions of the kids they mentor (an arch-nerd and F-bomb-dropping, hip African-American child.) Never the less there's still a degree of emotional engagement that the Lair climax generates. Perhaps the most emotionally satisfying scene, though, is when Danny encounters Augie's parents who see their son's role playing obsession as something deviant to be discouraged.
Overall the film doesn't quite reach the heights of this year's previous comedies. It's not at the level of "Pineapple Express," "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," and "Harold and Kumar 2." It's more on par with "Step Brothers." "Role Models" is an entertaining 99 minutes but probably won't be remembered as one of the year's stand outs in its genre.
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