Role Models Review

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by Mark Botwright Mar 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM

    Role Models Review
    Paul Rudd is an actor who has long been in the shadows. He has etched a career as primarily a peripheral player, always to be found in comedies with certain other actors starring. It is not that he is unfunny, more that he seems unable to make the leap, or at least hasn't leapt until now. Role Models marks what could be the beginning of Rudd's second phase of his career - that of the main name above the title. Having a fine comedy pedigree behind him, I have often wondered why the man who parodied a misogynistic media stereotype so perfectly in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (04), and has since gone on to make significant appearances in some of the most high profile comedies of recent years, such as The 40 Year Old Virgin (05) and Knocked Up (07), has remained with only one foot in such projects. Perhaps this is simply the slow evolution of a career tied to his relatively low profile, but it is a welcome sight to see him get his shot as a lead.

    Role Models tells the story of two energy drinks promoters. They are an imbalanced pairing, with Danny (Rudd) being older, more acerbic and generally fatigued with his life whilst the other, Wheeler (Seann William Scott), younger man has as much vim and vigour as the canned mix of caffeine and ginseng the duo peddle to the public. They spend their days touring high schools, with the suited Danny giving identikit speeches of morality and “say no to drugs” with the added message of why they should drink a beverage called “minotaur” Whilst this is happening, Wheeler prances behind dressed in a mascot's style minotaur outfit, yelling slogans such as “drink the beast” and the like. It isn't hard to see why, during the day that encompasses Danny's ten year anniversary of his time in this demeaning and exploitative job, he finds himself deeply unsatisfied with where his life has left him - floundering from day to day and profoundly unhappy. It doesn't help that he spends his working life trapped in a pick up truck replete with minotaur-like coverings such as horns and a nose with a ring through it, opposite such a chipper and insanely contented sidekick.

    This is the catalyst for most of the comedy on offer here - a mismatched pair that view life inherently differently. Like an Odd Couple for the ipod generation, they represent all that is both right and wrong with finding happiness in the wrong places. I can't say I've ever considered myself a great fan of Scott's, but his depiction of the arrogant high school jock, Steve Stifler in American Pie, was a lasting comic creation. Here, the role seems to have been reprised in all but name, as he rides through the film on a wave of sexism, idiocy and unbridled joy found through the simpler, baser things in life. The lethal combination of the ten year anniversary of Danny being imprisoned in this dead end morally bankrupt job, his girlfriend dumping him, and spending the day driving around in a vehicular beast, fuelled only by hate and a questionable energy drink that turns your pee green, inevitably leads to disaster for the hapless duo. A stop at a high school that results in a rambled speech about the benefits of drugs, assault on a police officer and ending up with their minotaur-mobile at a forty five degree angle wedged against a statue of a horse is not looked kindly upon by the authorities. Luckily, due to Danny's now ex-girlfriend being a lawyer, they are able to avoid jail by submitting to 150 hours community service. However, the twist is that rather than spend the allotted hours clearing rubbish and such like, they have to enrol in a mentoring programme, whereby they must be assigned a youngster to befriend. This is the central premise which drives the comedy.

    What starts out as a simple case of a mismatched pair, bungling their way through life, soon develops into an altogether different scenario. Rather than spend the rest of the film enjoying the already funny friction between our two adult leads and their differing perspectives on life and all its foibles, we are instead treated to a further layer of clashing figures - that of the men and those children they are to mentor. In truth, I wasn't altogether bothered when this twist delivered itself on screen as I was already relishing the acerbic, dry wit of Rudd's portrayal of Danny, alongside the bouncing moronic minotaur mascot within which dwelled Seann William Scott, that this further twist - which after all is the central premise of the film - seemed a bonus.

    If Rudd's and Scott's comic credentials are well established, then the two young protégé's, being obviously still younger actors, are somewhat less extensive. Christopher Mintz-Plasse will no doubt be familiar to anyone who has seen the 2007 comedy Superbad, whilst Bobb'e J Thompson has appeared in numerous films in his short life, yet obviously hasn't had as high exposure or screen time as this vehicle offers. Thus they could, by rights, be considered the potential weak link in the jocular chain. I was, however, only too pleased to see that the two youthful performers were anything but, instead rising to become an essential part of the recipe that spices this comedy up and brings the laughs to the fore. In truth, the two children offer differing ingredients to the overall mix. Plasse, playing the geeky Augie Farks, a boy enveloped in his own world of live action role playing games, is primarily the emotional character that evolves the tender side of the movie. His problems are easily empathised with as they have a universal nature to them - namely that of not belonging and disaffection with life. Thompson, on the other hand, playing the diminutive Ronnie is the far more brash and downright hilarious of the pair, spending most of his time being crass, vulgar, aggressive and referring to Danny in various ways as Ben Affleck, simply because he's white.

    Though these minors are the force that splits the central comedic pillars of Rudd and Scott, preventing them from sharing much screen time past the first act, they help move the story forward in a manner that would have perhaps seemed forced otherwise. Here they are used, not only for the laughs and emotion they inject, but also in order to reflect the two adult's flaws. Each child in some way represents the problem their mentor has - Augie shies away from life, instead preferring to hide his light under a bushel and take the easy way out by avoiding tackling the true troubles that mar his day to day existence - a perfect companion for Danny, a man who has seemingly lost the ability to identify the source of his unhappiness. Meanwhile, Ronnie lacks respect for anyone and skates from day to day being crude and insensitive simply because he can - a fine echo of Wheeler's aim to enjoy himself without any thought for consequences. With complications along the way, each child, or “little” as they are know within the Sturdy Wings programme, inevitably aids their respective “big” to confront their major flaws and inevitably come to a realisation whereby they can move forward in some way in their lives.

    This doesn't end up an entirely even movie, as although it appears Scott and Rudd are co-stars, the truth of the matter is that Rudd, more so, is at the very centre of this whirlwind. It is his emotional strife that propels the story and ultimately his, and his little's, redemption that are to be the waymarkers of the acts of this comedic piece. This is by no means a bad thing, as the pacing and editing of the film are handled in such a way that this is never too saccharine that it palls the comic flavour and yet doesn't fall too heavily on the side of the vulgarity that lies beneath many of the jokes. There is a nice balance between which are clearly meant to be evidently funny, and those that some may simply miss because of the way in which the script bounces back and forth between the characters. It is this repartee, more than anything, that I enjoyed the most. Major pratfalls have their place, but this film plays its biggest cards in the minor moments. What could have been the throwaway character of Gayle Sweeny - the founder of Sturdy Wings - instead turns out to be a comic creation to be savoured. I was unfamiliar with the work of Jane Lynch prior to the viewing of this film, but it is hard to come away from the experience without feeling she has stolen many a scene in which she could merely have been a plot device . Mad, cliché spouting and manic, she is the perfect foil for the rest of the male dominated movie's duration.

    The manly flavour to this tale cannot be ignored though, as in many ways this is a buddy movie. Two men, both flawed, encounter a few hardships and inevitably reach the light at the end of the tunnel. As much as I'd like to make a case for this having a genuine message beneath, it is a comedy, pure and simple. The bonus for me was the way in which it managed to weave the puerile humour of Seann William Scott at his funniest, with the acerbic, bitter and at times, downright vitriolic character acting of Rudd's portrayal of Danny, to create a mixture that was potent in terms of the laughs it evoked from this viewer. Throw in a couple of young players that punch far above their weight in terms of both emotions portrayed and comedic acting and you have a heady combination. One part American Pie, one part Office Space, plus two fine young comic talents equals enough laughs for me to want to watch this one again. It could have been a one note track, but instead raises itself to an ensemble piece of humorous orchestration. Not belly laugh material, but certainly one to raise a giggle.

    The Rundown

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