Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with Bungion Boy who caught an early look at Todd Phillips (OLD SCHOOL, STARSKEY & HUTCH)'s SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS. The flick doesn't come out until the end of September, so keep in mind that the below review is from an early, unfinished cut. This film has a forkin' great cast including David Cross, Luis Guzman, Jon Heder, Sarah Silverman, Billy Bob Thornton and Michael Clarke Duncan. However, Bungion Boy thinks they were completely wasted... Here's his rather negative and spoilery review. Enjoy, if you can.
Hey Harry, Mori, and staff. Bungion Boy here, back again in New York with a review of the new Todd Phillips film ‘School For Scoundrels.’ We were told we were the first audience to see it. Many spoilers to follow, but most of them will probably be featured in the trailer. There isn’t a lot of mystery to be kept about this story. We’ve seen it all before. Remember ‘Anger Management’’ At least this is a little better than that. The basic plot involves Jon Heder as loser Meter Maid. I’m not going to use character names because I can’t really remember any. He has major confidence issues and tries self-help books on tape to no avail. He’s also a Big Brother but in the beginning of the film he is ‘dumped’ by his third little brother who wants to ‘play the field’ a little. After he is shot at and robbed of his money and his clothes on the job, his friend, a very funny and underused David Cross, gives him the number of Dr. P, a man who teaches a class to losers to train them to be more assertive and outgoing, which essentially translates into being an asshole. Cross should have been the main supporting character in the film but only has three or four scenes Cross tells Heder that he used to be just like him but look at him now! Get it’ He’s still David Cross. Not that much cooler. Get it’ These are the jokes, people.
Dr. P is played by Billy Bob Thornton, whose character will be compared to those in ‘Bad Santa’ and ‘Bad News Bears,’ but lucky for us he doesn’t completely copy those. Rather, he seems to be copying Alec Baldwin’s character in ‘Glengarry Glen Ross.’ But I’m being too hard on him. He is actually very funny at times and somebody had to carry this film, because it’s certainly not Heder. More on that later. The class is comprised of various geeks and sad sack shmucks, played by some familiar comics. There’s Horatio Sanz, who I really loathe on SNL these days, but he plays it pretty low key here which is fine. Better than having him in a starring role. Also Matt Walsh, best known from ‘Upright Citizens Brigade.’ Then there’s Todd Louiso, who can now be seen in ‘Thank You For Smoking’ and has appeared in ‘Jerry Maguire’ and, (most successfully) ‘High Fidelity.’ Louiso walks away with the whole movie. He has all the best lines (‘I have two girls back at my apartment who think I’m Moby.’) and the funniest scenes. More on him later too. There is also Michael Clark Duncan, as Dr. P’s assistant who is the muscle and who some of the students fear, as there are rumors that he has raped some of the students before. More disturbing than funny, but the way these jokes are handled, they actually end up being some of the funniest things in the movie.
Heder begins sessions at the class and the movie continues to be a little slow. There are two wholes sessions where all the students just look confused, still wondering why they’re even there. We look confused too because the script hasn’t really explained what the class is either yet. Of course we know, because we’ve seen this before and we’re not stupid, but as soon as we see Billy Bob this movie should get a shot of adrenaline. It doesn’t. Thornton is good in the film but doesn’t dominate in the way that he should. They are billing him as the lead, after all. After a kind of sad scene when all the students are paged during their regular workdays and required to start a confrontation (which involves a hospital orderly stuff jello in an old man’s face and someone else breaking the violin of a street musician), we get the first really funny scene in the film. The men are taken out to the woods to play paintball. This sequence is just men shooting each other (often at close range) with paintballs but somehow it works. Maybe because it feels like the film gets some energy here. After Heder discovers Duncan with Sanz, Walsh, and Louiso bent over like Ned Beatty in ‘Deliverance,’ he rescues them and saves the day. This puts him as the front runner in the class, which David Cross mentions is not a good place to be because Dr. P can get very competitive.
This turns out to be very true. Heder has been attempting to romance his neighbor, a cute and likable Jacinda Barrett, and the classes have made him pretty successful at that. He’s been telling some lies but he scores a lot of points at being dangerous when the two go to dinner and she inspires him to free all of the lobsters, (into the East River. Nice.). Pretty soon Dr. P starts to move in on Barrett, telling him that he’s a widower doctor. Heder accepts the challenge and tries to compete with him, and dropping little touches like asking Barrett if Dr. P is her father. They end up playing Tennis doubles, (along with Barrett’s angry bitch of a roommate, played by Sarah Silverman doing a meaner and less funny version of her ‘School of Rock’ character.) The tennis game is very funny, as Heder keeps gracefully hitting Dr. P with the ball and racket. I know. Stupid. But since there is so much talk in this movie, a little lowbrow physical comedy was once again welcomed. Dr. P takes things too far, making Heder look like a crazy, obsessed stalker. Cross tells Heder that this happened to a guy in his class too and he went so crazy that he moved upstate. Heder goes to see him to get advice. He knocks on the door. Someone looks through the window
Oh my god! It’s Ben Stiller! Stiller has a lot of fun with the cameo, playing him as a long-haired, mustached guy with dozens of cats and a heavy Long Island accent. It’s pretty much a retread of the Will Ferrell cameo from ‘Wedding Crashers,’ but while that scene was more about a celebrity cameo, this one actually has some really funny jokes and Stiller sells it completely. He too has a great fear of Duncan and longs for revenge over hazy reasons. The rest is, well, obvious. And, like most romantic comedies, involves a rush to the airport. But at least this has a classic ‘Silence of the Lambsesque’ fake-out.
The biggest problem with this movie is Heder. I wasn’t a big fan of ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ but I at least understood the appeal of it. Since that film he has popped up here and there essentially doing the same character. This is the first time that he is playing a straight, leading man role. But I ask you, ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ fans, do even you want to see Heder play this kind of part in more movies’ Wouldn’t you rather just watch ‘ND’ on DVD’ But Heder has won a lottery ticket of fame so it would seem that he’s here to stay. It would be nice though if he used his newfound power for good, instead of evil. Or at least get some acting lessons. Some of his line reading are truely dreadful. The problem here is that he’s so bland and boring. I know. That’s his character. But there are funny and interesting ways to be bland and boring. He has a few decent moments when he starts to come out of his shell about an hour into the movie, but even by the end he doesn’t seem to have changed that much. Now, if Todd Phillips had the time and money to go back and remake the movie, why not cast Todd Louiso in the lead. He plays the same kind of character. Sad, shy, loser, but the difference is that he makes it funny and sympathetic and really entertaining. The audience seemed to be rooting for him more than Heder and he was hardly in the movie. Louiso is a great character actor and playing a lead in this kind of movie would have been a star-making performance, only I trust him to do more than playing the same character over and over again.
The movie has a few laugh out loud, really funny moments, but not enough for me to highly recommend it. But maybe I’m wrong. About four years ago I went to a test screening of ‘Old School’ and didn’t laugh that much, along with most of the audience. Now the writing in that isn’t any better or worse, but because of the performances and fun scenes, it has held up with repeated viewings and sometimes gets funnier. I could maybe see that happening with this. I know Duncan, Thornton, Louiso, Cross, and Walsh will be audience favorites. Maybe the whole movie will get funnier the more you see it. Maybe. Just maybe but maybe not. This will be a big hit in October when it comes out. The fans will decide.