Fans of director David Wain get excited. He’s finally been given the keys to a Hollywood ride and he delivered a funny comedy…at least according to both Matt and Brian….
If fans of director David Wain's previous work, "Wet Hot American Summer", come into his latest film, "Role Models". looking for the same absurd humor and clever parody "Wet Hot" provided, they're going to end up disappointed. But for everyone else who wants a conventional comedy that still delivers on laughs, "Role Models" is a grand success.
Danny (Paul Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott) spend their days pimping energy drinks to middle schoolers. Eventually, Danny's rudderless existence and boundless misanthropy get the better of him and in trying to flee from having his vehicle towed, he only makes matters worse. For their crime, Danny and Wheeler are sentenced to community service at Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother-type program. Danny is paired with Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a socially awkward LARPer (Live Action Role Playing), and Wheeler has to deal with Ronnie (Bobb'e J. Thompson), a foul-mouthed mischievous brat. The film takes the trajectory you expect: at first neither of these pairs get along and the guys start thinking that prison may be the better option. But the more time they spend with the kids, the more they care and eventually Danny and Wheeler become more mature.
With a different set of actors and a less creative director, "Role Models" would be a complete bore. But Wain has packed his supporting cast with reliable comic character actors. Most notable among them is Jane Lynch as Gayle, the director of Sturdy Wings. Lynch is pretty hilarious in almost anything she does, but she excels in the role of Gayle as she plays up the character's self-righteous street smarts and ridiculous no-nonsense attitude even though she rarely makes sense.
All the leads perform admirably. Paul Rudd's deadpan always kills me, Mintz-Plasse seems to have a reliable future playing nerds, and Thompson has a great energy that makes him lovable as he successfully plays on a negative stereotype. But I have to give special credit to Scott who I previously only recognized for his work in broad comedy. Here, he deftly adapts to Wain's dry humor and by his energy back, his line delivery works perfectly. Even though there's nothing particularly special about the line, I was almost crying when he quizzically replies to one of Ronnie's taunts, "Honky? That's racist."
There's nothing particularly special in "Role Models" and with the exception of a few moments, you'll probably forget most of the film in a couple days. But in its 99 minute run-time, it's got a wonderfully filthy set of humor delivered by strong comedic actors and directed by a man with excellent comic timing. Not every film can be a cult classic but that shouldn't disqualify flicks that can deliver on dry and foul-mouthed comedy.
Rating ----- B minus
Reviewed by Brian Orndorf
"Role Models" is not a product that needs much effort to be funny. Not only does the comedy troupe "The State" more or less reunite here, but there's Paul Rudd, the world of LARP, and Mc Lovin' also stealing screentime. Coming dangerously close to self-parody at times, "Role Models" remains a light but heartily funny diversion, best served with a raucous audience who appreciate a masterful KISS joke when they see one.
As a spokesman for a rancid energy drink, Danny (Paul Rudd) is feeling defeated by life. Recently dumped by his longtime girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) and faced with the one-dimensional yammering of partner Wheeler (Seann William Scott), Danny lashes out violently, leaving the two men with an option: jail time or act as big brothers to a child in need. Reluctantly opting for the latter, Danny and Wheeler are teamed up with two special people: foul-mouthed kid Ronnie (Bobb'e J Thompson) and teenaged sword and sorcery role-playing fanatic Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, "Superbad"). Forced into the mentoring game, Danny and Wheeler initially reject the companionship, but as the weeks pass and the challenges mount, the men grow to like their charges, soon investing fully in their lives.
It's refreshing to witness director David Wain ("Wet Hot American Summer") endeavor to make a silly comedy with oddball touches. "Role Models" is a fairly straightforward bit of humor, sweeping up bits of Peter Pan syndrome, raunchy one-liners, and acidic irony to supplement the formulaic screenplay (credited to four people, including Rudd). "Models" isn't surprising, but it's filled with substantial pockets of laughter, most emerging from Wain's sense of playfulness and desire to reach for an alternating routine of the broad and the obscure in the humor department.
A majority of "Models" is simply predicated on the reactions of Rudd and Scott as they stumble into the headspace of their troubled kids. Both actors are terrific fun in their roles, playing up the discomfort with generous timing, especially Rudd, who's handed a gem in Augie: a knight in a live-action, role-playing dynasty that opens the film up to numerous depictions of nerdly enthusiasm and overdramatic adults playing make believe. Wain actually reserves plenty of screentime for the LARP sequences, including a sublime ending where all the frustrations of our characters are sorted out on the battlefield of absurdity.
Cast well (Jane Lynch kills as the big brother program honcho) and infused with enough sardonic pluck to pick up steam after a lukewarm opening act, "Role Models" hits a rough patch during the midsection, where Wain succumbs to screenwriting 101 templates to push his film to the finish line. This movie isn't going to touch any hearts, so it baffles me why Wain would even try his hand at sentimentality as Wheeler and Danny are separated from the boys due to ineffective supervision. It's a wet blanket on the film the very moment it starts to hum pleasingly. The intent is to create an underdog situation for the picture, but it succeeds more in killing the laughs.
With numerous KISS references (Wheeler and Ronnie's bonding point), ludicrously potty-mouthed children, and the cast giving the material a nice bite when it needs it the most, "Role Models" turns out to be a film of select bellylaughs and constant smiles. It's not quite a barnstormer, but it has a wealth of small charms, and Wain works them all over with his special brand of absurdity.