School for Scoundrels
Despite earnest attempts at originality and some well-earned laughs, School for Scoundrels never really rises above the formulaic.
Meet Roger (Jon Heder), a beleaguered New York City meter maid who can"t even get a kid to like him in the Big Brother program, he"s that much of a loser. In a desperate attempt to change, Roger joins a top-secret, confidence-building class taught by the suavely underhanded Dr. P. (Billy Bob Thornton). The doc guarantees that if you employ his unorthodox and often dangerous techniques, you WILL unleash your inner lion. The class turns out to be just the incentive Roger needs, and he takes to it like a duck to water. He even finally gets up the courage to ask out his pretty neighbor, Amanda (Jacinda Barrett). But here"s the catch: Because Roger is such a star student, it catapults Dr. P. into ultra-competitive mode, and he makes it his mission to infiltrate and destroy Roger's life, including going after Amanda. Well, that"s not very fair. Can Roger use his newfound king of the jungle-ness to beat the master at his own game? Hmmm.
It"s mostly because of the two leads that Scoundrels feels like you"ve been there and done that. First of all, Heder, best known as THE Napoleon Dynamite, is playing a nerd...again. And although he"s far more lovable this time aroundwith the full lips and shaggy hairand you instantly cheer him on, the actor doesn"t really evolve by movie"s end. With his limited comic abilities, he may not be the right choice to carry an entire film. Thornton, who has been known to carry a film, is just doing his same Bad Santa shtick he"s done in about the last four films he"s made. Wonder if he"ll ever go out on a limb again like he did with Sling Blade. As for the other band of misfit classmatesWalsh (Old School"s Matt Walsh), who's dying to move out of mother's basement; Diego (SNL"s Horatio Sanz), a punching bag for his hen-pecker of a wife; and Eli (Jerry Maguire"s Todd Louiso), a shy guy just looking for female companionshipthey are hilarious. Barrett (The Last Kiss), too, works fine as the ingénue. And there is a well-placed cameo by Ben Stiller, as a former student of Dr. P, who also got in his way.
Based on the 1960 British film of the same title, Scoundrels reunites director/writer Todd Phillips with his writing partner Scot Armstrongthe guys who brought us Old School, Starsky and Hutch and Road Trip. It"s obvious these guys know comedy, and they turn an uppity British laffer into a cross between Anger Management and Rushmore. Not a bad combination, actually. They set up the big comedic payoffs, such as the class" painful attempt at engaging in a paint ball fight in the woods or the one-upmanship competition between Roger and Dr. P, and let the chortles roll in. But overall, Scoundrels seems almost too paint by the numbers and tad superficial. It could have definitely benefited from either a little more star power (as with Anger Management"s Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson) or more off-beat humor (as between Rushmore"s Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray). Oh well, better luck next time.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.