Role Models (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Role Models Poster

Role Models takes a familiar PG-rated plot and adds enough profanity and nudity to earn it a family unfriendly R. Sadly, an injection of raunchiness does not equate to an increase in quality and, while Role Models can boast the occasionally funny joke, there's little else to recommend this derivative buddy film. In fact, the storyline is so obvious that it needs a heavy dose of hilarity to save it from bouts of tedium, and director David Wain's hit-or-miss comedy lacks the consistency necessary to make Role Models appealing.

This is yet another film in which adults bond with kids and, in the process, both members of the pair learn important life lessons. The cold, cynical adults come to understand the importance of unconditional love while the kids learn that all adults aren't jerks. Of course, the four leads (two kids, two adults) are afflicted with a readily identifiable, easily satirized character traits. Wheeler (Seann William Scott) is in a state of arrested development. Danny (Paul Rudd) has become cold and emotionally unavailable. Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is a LARP (Live Action Role Playing) addict. And Ronnie (Bobb'e J. Thompson) is as fond of dropping f-bombs as he is of staring at women's breasts. From a personality standpoint, that's pretty much all you need to know about the characters because those are the only qualities the filmmakers care about.

Wheeler and Danny are representatives for a company that manufactures a high energy drink. They travel from school to school promoting the drink as a "healthy" alternative to drug use. One day, as a result of a series of painfully contrived circumstances, the two find themselves on the wrong side of the law. To avoid a jail term, they agree to 150 hours of community service (each), acting as big brothers to troubled kids. Danny is assigned Augie and Wheeler ends up with Ronnie. Predictably, things start out rocky but, as events foster mutual understanding, relationships grow. There isn't a single moment in Role Models that hasn't been done, often better, in other, similar films. The storyline has the feel of something constructed from a plot-by-numbers grab bag.

The aspect of Role Models that keeps it from landing in the "unwatchable" bin is that some of the humor is genuinely funny. Wain's take on LARPing (which is essentially a live-action version of D&D with padded swords and no dice) is amusing and avoids the trap of being too condescending to those productive members of society who participate in this activity. (It's a niche community, but a surprisingly thriving one.) Many of the LARP jokes are amusing but not nasty. As for Ronnie's R-rated dialogue - this is the kind of thing that's funny once or twice then loses its effectiveness once the shock value wears off. Then there's Jane Lynch, whose zany portrayal of Gayle Sweeny, Wheeler and Danny's community service boss, is demented enough to cause plenty of chuckles. Lynch appears to be reprising her role from The 40-Year-Old Virgin, which is okay. She was funny in that film and she's funny here. Unfortunately, not all of Role Models' humor works. Much of it is obvious and a lot of the jokes simply aren't funny. The film appears to be trying for the R-rated John Hughes vibe that a number of recent Judd Apatow productions have tapped into, but it misses the mark by a considerable distance.

Speaking of Apatow, it's almost surprising not to see his name in the credits considering how many of his frequent collaborators are involved. In addition to the aforementioned Lynch, Role Models co-stars Paul Rudd (who was also involved in polishing the screenplay), and features Elizabeth Banks as Rudd's love interest. Also in the cast is Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who mugs for the camera considerably less here than he did as McLovin' in Superbad. Seann William Scott is perfectly at home with this sort of material. In fact, he's pretty much playing an older but not appreciably more mature version of Stiffler from American Pie.

Like far too many movies that bill themselves as comedies, I didn't find Role Models consistently funny or engaging. It's disposable entertainment at its most extreme. One of the things I appreciate about Judd Apatow is something that's missing here. Apatow takes cookie-cutter stories like this and gives the humor and situations enough of an edge that they work. That doesn't happen in Role Models. For a movie to succeed with a premise this feeble, the comedy needs to be more inspired than what Wain and his co-writers have scripted. This production falls into the category of the stale, generic R-rated adult/kid bonding comedy. Only those with an affinity for such things will find Role Models tolerable.

Role Models (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:39
U.S. Release Date: 2008-11-07
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1