Saturday, December 20, 2008

Review: Role Models (***)

Directed by David Wain
Cast: Seann William Scott, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Elizabeth Banks, Jane Lynch, Ken Jeong, Ken Marino, Kerri Kinney, A.D. Miles, Joe Lo Truglio, Matt Walsh, Nicole Randall Johnson, Alexandra Stamler, Carly Craig.
2008—99 minutes.
Rated R (crude and sexual content, language, nudity)
Reviewed by The Teen Critic on December 20, 2008.

“Role Models” works. It just works. Yes, it’s uneven, and raunchy. But it’s very, very funny and contains two of the best comedic performances of the year. But more on those later. Yes, it’s nowhere near “Tropic Thunder,” but it’s funnier than some of the other comedies this year. Like “The Love Guru,” it’s shameless in its raunchiness, isn’t too deep, and is just a foulmouthed funfest. I like the spirit of “Role Models” over all; it was blessedly R-rated but never mean-spirited. And those performances—man, did they make the movie.

Danny and Wheeler are best friends and drunks. They have been having a bad day, selling their power drinks as they do, until Danny’s girlfriend breaks up with him after an unromantic proposal. He ruins the next presentation, wrecks the tow truck trying to take their car, and is threatened with jail. That is, unless he and Wheeler can prove their worth by spending time with some kids at Sturdy Wings, an organization specializing in troubled kids.

Danny is assigned to Augie, a wide-open nerd obsessed with RPGs and never quite able to live in the real world. It ends up that Augie has extra layers, and Danny finally realizes why Augie is the way he is. There is a brilliantly played-out scene where Danny and Augie’s parents argue about Augie’s upbringing; it ends with Danny kicked out of their house for making better points than the parents. Meanwhile, Wheeler has to deal with Ronnie, a potty-mouthed 10-year-old with no filter, it seems, to move past the bad words. No worries; the heroes, and the organization’s headmistress, are just as salty.

So, the plot of “Role Models” isn’t exactly a novel one, but it works for this film. The screenplay is amiable, and the direction by David Wain consists mostly of montages, yes, but the most entertaining montages in a while. What works best about “Role Models” is the acting, and good performances are not in short supply. Paul Rudd is impressive as Danny, showing true colors near the end and deserving it. Seann William Scott is hilarious as Wheeler, but isn’t given enough to work with (he’s still good with what he’s got). Elizabeth Banks is radiant as always as love-interest Beth, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, fresh off of “Superbad,” is wonderful as the role playing Augie. (Note: the role-playing sequences are very believable.)

But the two aforementioned brilliant performances—seriously among the best of the year—are by Jane Lynch and Bobb’e J. Thompson. Lynch plays Gayle Sweeny, the head of Sturdy Wings, as the demented cousin of Tom Cruise’s Les Grossman. She’s that good and hits every note perfectly. It’s brilliant, and, above all, side-splittingly hilarious. Now, for Bobb’e J. Thompson as Ronnie. Consider this among the four most fearless supporting actor performances of the year, right up there with Cruise and Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder” and, yes, Heath Ledger’s Joker. Thompson is simply electrifying and, in my opinion, Oscar-worthy in the role, and I predict he will go far as a result of this performance. Every other word is a naughty one; I suspect he would positively blanch Les Grossman and Kirk Lazarus—combined.

There are things that don’t work. The dramatic sequences are mostly melodramatic and unrealistic. The scenes between Danny and Beth are from any romantic comedy you can think of. The scenes with Wheeler and Ronnie, however, are perfectly balanced. I love how Thompson switches between dramatic and comedic without losing a step or a single bad word. The scenes between Danny and Augie are dramatically inert, except for that dinner sequence.

But the comedy’s the key in “Role Models,” and thank goodness for that. The performances are also electric, especially from Lynch and, more so if possible, Thompson. This is a vulgar good time at the movies. And that’s all the filmmakers were looking for, right?

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