Damn it is great to see a hilarious comedy that Judd Apatow has no involvement with. I like his films, but give someone else a chance. David Wain, writer of “The State,” one of the best skit comedy shows ever, and director of Wet Hot American Summer comes together with snarkmaster Paul Rudd (Knocked Up, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Sean William Scott- who hasn’t been this entertaining and well, not annoying since he was The Rock’s punching bag/sidekick in The Rundown– to give us a filthy-mouthed but soft-hearted comedy that somehow manages to make fun of, and yet embrace male nerdery of many kinds.
If you’ve seen the Role Models trailer or commercials you know the story- Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Scott) work for an energy drink company, peddling “Minotaur” to school kids to keep them off drugs and on hyper-caffeinated, guarana-infused beverages. Wheeler loves it- he gets to dress up as a bull-man and bag chicks, but Danny hates the dead-endedness of his job, and his girlfriend Beth, a lawyer, is sick and tired of his super-negative attitude. So she dumps him, and Danny breaks down in front of a bunch of schoolkids and causes untold mayhem, which lands him and Wheeler with a 30 day jail term. Unless they placate the judge by performing 120 hours of community service with his favorite charity, Sturdy Wings.
Sturdy Wings is the creation of a tough-as-nails ex-addict Gayle Sweeney (Jane Lynch, A Mighty Wind) with a dagger tattoo on her arm and a no-bullshit attitude. She’s not going to let them coast through their sentence, since she had to claw her way out of hell. So she hooks them up with her two toughest cookies. Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson, “Human Giant”) is a foul-mouthed, hostile little black kid who delights in embarrassing and shocking the shit out of adults. Something he is quite good at, greeting Wheeler with an accusation of pederasty. And Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, “McLovin” from Superbad) is a fantasy-obsessed nerd who gallavants around in a cape, with his trusty foam sword at his side. To his credit, he doesn’t just play McLovin again, and this nerd is different from his last.
Happy-go-lucky Wheeler takes foul-mouthed little Ronnie in stride; he’s obviously a smart enough kid who acts out because he wants to see what he can get away with; his mom isn’t a stereotypical exasperated single mother, but one who knows what her son needs- a positive male role model- and who doesn’t give in to his bad boy shtick. Wheeler eventually bonds with the boy over a mutual love of boobies, and when he explains the enduring power of the rock band KISS, I was in stitches. How he tells the tale of a bunch of Jewish guys from New York who dress up weird t get laid and sing about their penises, is a masterful bit of writing filtered through Sean William Scott’s likeable doofus persona.
Augie introduces Danny to his fantasy world- players of a game called LAIRE- Live Action Interactive Roleplaying Experience- or what the geekerati know as LARPing. If you read my review of Monster Camp you’ll know all you need. LAIRE is a bit of LARP with a healthy dose of obsessiveness from the Society for Creative Anachronism; we meet a gaggle of people at the local park dressed up as knights and maidens, who like to whack each other in the face with padded foam swords. These folk are lorded over by King Argotron (Ken Jeong, Pineapple Express) who may not be able to grow a real moustache but can lead a nerdy nation of cape-wearing Renn Faire rejects. Danny refuses to get involved at first, but of course Augie slowly grows on him. Mintz-Plasse plays up the nerd angle but stays likeable and doesn’t tumble into parody.
If there’s a weak point it’s that the women get little to do, and when they do, it’s a bit over the top. Jane Lynch has some great moments as the hard-ass leader, but she sticks out as the least realistic character. She seems like an exile from an SNL skit, while everyone else is fully fleshed. Danny’s girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks, W., Zack and Miri Make a Porno) gets very little to do except give Danny a chance to redeem his misanthropic ways. That’s unfortunate, since she’s quite a good actress, and it would have given the girls a bit more to laugh about. KISS and Dungeons & Dragons jokes aren’t really their domain. Ronnie’s hilarious asides, like constantly calling Danny “Ben Affleck” are enough to make the movie fun, thankfully.
When Danny finally understands Augie and how to channel his own anger to get things done instead of bitching all the time, the final mash-up of KISS and D&D nerds is a rollercoaster ride of hilarity. Like Monster Camp, the nerds are poked fun at, but much of the joke is how mundane their strange hobby is to them, and the people who hatefully mock them- like Augie’s stepdad- are made the butt of the joke in the end. It was a masterstroke to include a much more mainstream example of Adults Dressing Up, such as KISS and Minotaur mascots, so we’d have something accepted to compare it to. The theater loved it as well, and they couldn’t have all been nerds who were already familiar with the concept of adults dressing in capes.
It has its flaws- Jane Lynch’s character really doesn’t come into her own until the end, and Danny’s inevitable reunion with Beth is a bit unlikely, albeit heartwarming. But Sean William Scott has graduated from his Dude, Where’s My Car? days, and Paul Rudd is proving that he can lead a film. He’s got his own thing going, and let’s hope like Ronnie says, that the Jersey boy (Passaic born and bred, yo) gets to be Ben Affleck some day. He’s got the chops. McLovin shows he’s not a one note wonder like Jon “Napoleon Dynamite” Heder, and Bobb’e Thompson is funnier at age 12 than most adults in the skit comedy gang. He’s going to be one funny motherfucker.
So, Role Models is a fine role model for an R-rated comedy. At least two sets of fine boobies- probably added as a what-the-hell measure when it was obvious they’d never get a PG-13 with Bobb’e dropping F-bombs and McLovin waxing jizzpantsic over Queen Esplen- bring us back to the early 80’s era of Caddyshack-style guy-comedy, unlike the Apatow bromantic kind where wiggling wangs rule the screen. David Wain, I salute you. I didn’t like Wet Hot American Summer‘s over-the-top antics much, but I thank you for this movie. It’s one of the best comedies of 2008, a year that gave us Pineapple Express and the excellent Forgetting Sarah Marshall among others, so that’s saying a lot.
3½ whispering eyes out of 4.