ARTS

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November 7, 2008

Models set high standards for mediocre films

Role Models is the latest in a series of Judd Apatow–influenced comedies about grown men coming of age—a good decade after the societal norm. And as with most other films in the same vein, you wouldn’t go get a ticket to watch this for the storyline, the slacker charm, the aww–factor, or the pretty good performances from the cast. Instead, it’s just a fun way to spend about an hour and a half of your time.

In this update of the genre, Danny (Paul Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott) are two salesmen selling energy drinks to middle school kids on the pretext of providing an alternative to drugs. Wheeler is the (ahem) freewheeling soul whose aim in life is to have fun and get laid; Danny, on the other hand, is sarcastic, hates the world (and his job), and is generally not very sociable. The trouble starts when Danny’s caustic character gets on his girlfriend Beth’s (Elizabeth Banks) nerves in a memorable exchange over coffee–cup sizes at Starbucks. Inevitably Danny gets himself dumped. On an energy-drink-fueled rampage, Danny ends up running his company’s truck into school property. Somehow, Wheeler gets dragged into all this, and the two plea-bargain their way out of 30 days in jail and into 150 hours of community service with a mentorship program.

The charm of the movie rests pretty much entirely on the chemistry between the two men and their charges, Wheeler and Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson), as well as Danny and the awesomely-named Augie Farks (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, better known as McLovin from Superbad). Thompson’s foul-mouthed, chest-staring Ronnie is a hoot straight from the get-go, and the scene where the two of them discuss the finer points of cleavage watching in a park is one of the highlights of the unlikely chemistry between Scott and Thompson. Augie, on the other hand, is a shy, introverted kid with a penchant for medieval roleplay. Mintz-Plasse’s nerdy, heartfelt portrayal of Augie is a winner, making you feel very much in his corner. He makes Danny’s sharp about-turn from caustic wet blanket to dedicated supporter all the more believable. The two pairs’ contrasting characters play off each other perfectly as they join forces for the final battle, while Rudd’s Danny and Scott’s Wheeler offer up many laughs themselves with their contrasting personalities.

The chemistry among the cast is very much reminiscent of an Apatow movie, and with good reason: It features an entire host of Apatow alumni. Besides Mintz-Plasse, Ken Jeong (Knocked Up and Pineapple Express) and Jane Lynch (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) put in winning performances as the villain with an effeminate king complex (yes, you read that right) and the B.S.–free boss of the mentorship program respectively. Indeed, Jeong and Lynch especially have many scenes that supply a lot of the movie’s laughs, involving bagel dogs, drug addictions, and a fast–food joint with a somewhat suggestive name.

Plot-wise, things move along as if they’re on autopilot—and indeed for most of the movie you can predict what will happen three scenes ahead. But no amount of analysis can sour the experience of watching a faux-medieval battle scene with four guys in full KISS getup (complete with face paint and hippie battle-names). The battle ends on a very welcome and sweet twist, and as Role Models winds down with a superbly awkward scene between Lynch and Ken Marino, who plays Augie’s father, you get the feeling that the point of this movie is not the plot—or the minimal attempt at one—but the heart, borne out by a well above-average cast.