Frankly, I wasn't even going to see "Role Models", the new film starring Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott and co-written and directed by David Wain. Wain's last film, "The Ten", was one of the worst comedies I have ever seen, so my hopes weren't high for this new film. But some time opened up in my schedule and I went to a bargain matinee.
"Role Models" is extremely funny in that raunchy, Judd Apatow-esque way. It also suffers from the same problems. It is too long and can't consistently deliver the laughs. But it is funny enough to make you laugh and deserves your time, money and attention. If you like fairly raunchy comedies.
Danny (Paul Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott) are the local spokesmen for Minotaur, a green energy drink. Everyday, they show up at a nondescript office-building, hop into a souped up truck and tour local high schools. While Danny, wearing a suit, tries to convince the kids to give up drugs and drink Minotaur, giving up one addiction for the next, Wheeler prances back and forth in a full Minotaur costume. Wheeler loves the job, but Danny realizes he has no prospects, the job and his life are meaningless. He gets in a fight with Beth (Elizabeth Banks), his longtime girlfriend, who ends the relationship because he is so bitter. Amped up on Minotaur and emotionally unstable, Danny gets in a fight with a traffic cop and Wheeler comes to his defense. Both men are sentenced to 180 days of community service and sent to Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother-type program run by Gayle (Jane Lynch, "Best in Show", "The 40 Year Old Virgin"), a former drug addict who is now addicted to other things. She pairs Danny up with Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, 'McLovin' in "SuperBad"), an awkward boy who loves a medieval role-playing game called LAIRE. She pairs Wheeler up with Ronnie (Bobbe'e J. Thompson), a foul-mouthed little black kid who has never had a "Sturdy Wing" for more than a day.
As soon as the film begins, we see a quick montage of what constitutes a normal day for Danny and Wheeler. Danny is the straight man, the sales man, and wears a suit. Wheeler is the company mascot and wears a ridiculous outfit that makes him look more like a cow than a fabled Mythological character. And we quickly get why Wheeler loves the job; he gets attention and has little responsibility or drama related to the job, and we get why Danny hates the job; he has been working for the company for ten years and has watched all of his dreams go down the drain. But they trudge out every day and arrange presentations to middle and high school kids ostensibly to talk about giving up drugs and start drinking Minotaur. Danny realizes his pitch is a load of bull, but it pays the bills.
This is a very amusing set-up, well-written, well-acted and directed giving us a quick look at the lives of these two characters. The fact that it is also funny is a bonus, because this sequence is really a necessity for the rest of the film.
Beth, the character played by Elizabeth Banks ("W", "Zack and Miri Make a Porno") is less successful. Beth is basically the one straight person in the entire film. She isn't given anything funny to say or do and this makes her stand out considerably when every other character making us laugh. She is a necessary part of the story but doesn't add any laughter. Beth breaks up with Danny when she finally realizes he is a miserable, bitter man and will probably never change. This provides the final straw for Danny and leads to his altercation with the police. It also helps that Beth is a lawyer, because she helps Danny and Wheeler get community service instead of jail time.
Paul Rudd is a very funny guy. He has almost become a master at these sorts of every guy roles, the sarcastic guy who is a bit worn down by society and is quick with a throwaway line making us laugh. Here, he makes Danny a miserable guy. More importantly, we believe in Danny's misery and this makes his involvement with Augie and Sturdy Wings all the more interesting and funny.
Seann William Scott is also funny as Wheeler, the slacker with no real ambition who is happy to live life playing Minotaur and sleeping with as many beautiful women as possible. His set-up also allows his pairing in Sturdy Wings to work extremely well.
The two boys, Augie, the nerd who loves a role playing game called LAIRE, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Ronnie, the foul-mouthed black kid being raised by a loving single mom, played by Bobb'e J. Thompson, are both great and represent complete opposites of the spectrum. Of course each is going to bond with their Wing, and help change their Wing's life for the better. This is, perhaps, one of the problems with "Models". Because the film initially seems as though it will be pretty irreverent, when it falls back on this tried and true (and tired?) story cliché it robs the film of some of its oomph.
Jane Lynch rounds out the main cast and she is, as always, a gem. In each of her movie roles, she plays a supporting character who doesn't seem to add much to the film, but you can't and won't forget her character. In "The 40 Year Old Virgin", she played Steve Carell's lascivious store manager, eager to help him with his 'problem', leering at him like a guy would eye a nubile blonde. In "Best in Show", she played the Lesbian partner of Jennifer Coolidge. That in and of it is funny because the two women are so different. In "Role Models", she plays Gayle Sweeny, the founder of Sturdy Wings. Each time she meets with the two men, she reveals a little more about her background and a little more about her addictions, both past and present. Lynch is very funny as Gayle and has a number of very funny lines which are delivered in such a perfect, deadpan way you wonder why Lynch isn't used in more films.
As the two men meet their new charges, there is initial conflict. Danny doesn't have any interest in LAIRE and soon realizes this is all Augie wants to do. It is an escape for him, an escape from his mom and step-dad, who don't understand him or LAIRE. And Wheeler has some trouble connecting to Ronnie, who seems intent on pushing him away with his bad behavior and abrasive language. But as the two men get to know the kids better, they realize they have similar problems and start to try to help each other out. I know, not exactly genre-busting material, but it is funny. When Danny first goes to a LAIRE meeting, Augie states he likes everyone here. Danny spots a woman in a wheel chair who is stuck in a hole. Augie continues "Except her." It is this type of throwaway humor; single funny, sarcastic lines that work best in "Role Models". They are the most true to the tone and feel of the film.
But the film tries too hard to make everything work out. Ronnie and Wheeler have to help each other as much as Danny and Augie do, which leads to some treacly moments which just don't work with the sarcastic, irreverent tone of the film. Unfortunately, these moments are amplified during the conclusion when Danny has to make everything right for Augie, and in the process, himself.
And when the film is concentrating so heavily on making everything sweet and good-natured, the story telling kicks in, the characters become pretty routine and the comedy falls short. These moments are occasionally punctuated by funny bits of business; Wheeler wakes up naked next to the campfire during a Sturdy Wings camping trip, and this helps them go down a bit better. But they still stand out like a sore thumb.
"Role Models" is a very funny film and will certainly provide you with some laughs.