Old School


Movie review by Greg Carlson

Todd Phillips, the writer-director whose perpetual fixation with all things (academics excepted) collegiate has served him from the documentary “Frat House” to the surprisingly funny “Road Trip,” takes another run at it with “Old School,” a mildly entertaining comedy with some unfortunately lengthy stretches in between the laughs. Based on the well-worn premise that recapturing one’s youth is as worthy an endeavor as anything related to growing up, holding a job, and spending time with your family, “Old School” coasts by on the charm of its lead trio, funnymen Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson, and Vince Vaughn.

While the thought of three dolts in their mid-thirties starting up a college fraternity in order to avoid eviction is not likely to capture any prizes for originality, the film displays a relatively high level of enthusiasm from its leads, despite the turgid, bottom-feeding script. Phillips’ direction is leagues below “Road Trip,” feebly cobbling together ideas that might have sounded humorous in the planning stage, but fail in the execution. Misogyny is practically required in sex comedies targeted at young males, but the women in “Old School” – especially the lead romantic interest for Wilson’s character – are ignored to the point where they virtually disappear.

As dull, cuckolded businessman Mitch, Luke Wilson has the least colorful role to play. Mitch leaves his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis, appearing in one of the movie’s many cameos) after discovering her predilection for group sex with complete strangers. He moves into a large home near his alma mater, soon to be joined by Ferrell’s Frank and Vaughn’s Beanie (each one suffering from nebulous, unspecified marital miseries). Vaughn riffs on his signature smug persona, this time as a soccer coach, father of small children, and owner of a regional electronics chain. As a relative newcomer to the big screen (having pulled the ripcord on his SNL parachute), Ferrell shows considerable big screen promise, delivering even the most suspect dialogue with excellent comic timing.

The biggest problem with the movie is not its vulgarity, but its complete lack of unity and coherence in plotting and pacing. Add to that the weak and aimless screenplay, which never bothers to offer a good explanation for the disparate types of pledges recruited for the upstart fraternity, and you’ve got a spotty hour and a half. The oddball assortment of wannabe frat boys includes an octogenarian, a morbidly obese young man, and a bunch of nameless, faceless clods too old to be in college; it adds up to nothing but an arbitrary way to generate “comedy.” Worst of all, Jeremy Piven is saddled with the humiliating task of playing the stereotyped evil-creepy school administrator who stands in the way of the good guys.

Following a thoroughly inept sequence where the ragtag frat must negotiate a series of scholastic and athletic challenges to prove its worth to the powers that be (the same thing was done much better in “Revenge of the Nerds”), the story quickly, inconsequentially winds itself down. Other name brand talent shows up in cameo roles, most notably Andy Dick as an in-home fellatio instructor, Craig Kilborn as a philandering cad, and Seann William Scott as a mullet-coiffed petting zoo proprietor. Snoop Dogg practically phones in his fleeting spot, arriving just long enough to perform a few seconds of a song at a raging party. Only Ellen Pompeo, as Mitch’s high school crush, manages to shine despite being perpetually upstaged by beer kegs and nude streaking.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 2/24/03.

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