Role Models (7/10)

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“Role Models” differs from the usual big Hollywood comedies in that most of the funny stuff in the movie comes from what you could actually believe and picture people saying.  Aside from some shallow characters (whose gimmicks are forgiven for their hilarity), the central storyline and actors do such a great job of sharing excellent chemistry and being just plain funny that you forget that the story is essentially a formula – irresponsible adults must learn the value of looking at the world through children’s eyes so that they can learn their own life lessons. You can even tell that this is going to be the story from the trailer, so let’s move on to more specific plot details.

Wheeler (Seann William Scott) and Danny (Paul Rudd) drive around a huge energy drink truck that looks like a bull, hopping from school to school promoting the unhealthy values of the soda while talking about how bad drugs are. Danny’s depressed and bored and sees himself going nowhere with his life, while Wheeler is perfectly happy where he is, because the best thing about his job is that “It’s easy to do hungover.” When a parking “incident” forces the two to attend “Sturdy Wings,” a community center that matches mentor adults (bigs) with children in need (littles), the two have to suck it up so that they don’t lose their jobs or get raped in prison.

Though “Role Models” is pretty funny right from the first scene, it doesn’t really get going until Danny and Wheeler end up at “Sturdy Wings,” where Gayle Sweeney, played by Jane Lynch, is the overenthusiastic head counselor and program founder with a history of drug addiction. Lynch plays her with manic crazy energy and a creepy side that’s reminiscent of her role as Paula in “The 40-Year Old Virgin.” When she introduces the two kids Wheeler and Danny must mentor, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as live action role playing nerd Augie and Bobb’e J. Thompson as foul-mouthed Ronnie, the comedy really has a chance to get going, and it’s also where the movie thrives.

First of all, Bobb’e J. Thompson’s every single line is hilarious, and for such a young kid it’s easy to tell he’s already got a bright comedic future ahead of him – the kid is just outright funny, able to hold his own effortlessly in scenes with superstars like Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd. Christopher Mintz-Plasse doesn’t do as well, but for only his second role it’s pretty funny; sure, much of the time his character merely seems like something McLovin might do on the weekends, but Mintz-Plasse doesn’t condescend toward his character like that, and because of it, you’re able to care that much more. The same care is evidenced in the script’s handling of the live action role playing scenes – the “nerds” never come off as social outcasts with no life, and jokes are rarely ever cheaply made at their expense; Wain knows we’ve seen enough making fun of nerds to last us a lifetime, so there’s no sense dwelling on it, and in “Role Models,” sometimes the smartest people seem like the nerds themselves. Paul Rudd sometimes is too blah and boring in the film, but that may be just because of his character; Seann William Scott is better, too – instead of some overblown sex maniac like Stiffler was in “American Pie,” Scott’s a believable character – his performance is actually fairly subltle and smart and realistic, and it’s a relief to see Scott get some good work.

A few times during the movie, some cliches do rise above the good performances, like in the last forty minutes of the movie when some conflicts arise between the bigs and the littles that reeks of just adding running time; and a musical montage made to summarize the several months Wheeler and Danny must spend with Augie and Ronnie, works because it doesn’t feel like so much a cheap trick as director David Wain acknowledging; okay, we’re not going to excessively make this about the whole “kids teach adults life lessons thing” – let’s just tell the story, and have a musical montage for fun. “Role Models” is never easily boiled down into cliched romantic comedy territory, and in a post-Apatow comedy world, it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen. It doesn’t rank up there with some of Apatow’s best, but it’s better than “Step Brothers,” “Drillbit Taylor” and “Walk Hard,” and if you like to laugh, chances are you’ll like “Role Models.”

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