Movie review by Greg Carlson
It is a safe bet that many of the published reviews of “Role Models” will reference its similarity to the movies of current comedy juggernaut Judd Apatow. Apatow has perfected the art of the “bromance” as well as the blending of warm-hearted positivism and crass vulgarity. Movies like “Knocked Up” and “The 40 Year Old Virgin” have set a course for a kind of contemporary American humor that will be identified as its own particular subset of the comedy genre in years to come. David Wain, a brilliant comic mind in his own right, is the director and co-writer of “Role Models,” but the movie lacks much of the skewed worldview that defines funnier efforts like “Stella” and “Wainy Days.”
Actor Paul Rudd, who has collaborated with Wain on several projects, is joined by Seann William Scott, still effectively mining the oversexed party animal persona he originated as Steve Stifler in the “American Pie” series. The two of them are supposed to be best pals, although one immediately gets the feeling that Rudd’s bitter, angry, and sarcastic Danny doesn’t feel the same level of fraternity as Scott’s Wheeler. As pitchmen for an overpriced energy drink, Danny and Wheeler travel to schools in a tricked-out minotaur-themed monster truck. On one especially bad day in a chain of bad days, Danny’s rage leaves the buddies on the wrong side of the law.
Wain never seems very far away from fellow members of cult comedy troupe The State, and finds many laughs in the story of a pair of man-children whose arrested development catches up with them in the shape of court-ordered community service in a mentorship program called Sturdy Wings. Thanks in no small part to the effortless timing and charm of Rudd (another of the film’s credited writers), “Role Models” sustains its featherweight premise for more than half of the total running time. Filmmakers who emulate Apatow in the pursuit of his level of box office success, however, rarely have his uncanny ability to make the warm, fuzzy, lessons-learned part of the story work, and the last section of “Role Models” feels half-hearted, as if Wain might have preferred a less happy ending.
Once Danny and Wheeler meet their “littles” at Sturdy Wings, the movie divides its time between the nerd-heavy world of live action role-playing inhabited by cape-wearing Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who is paired with Danny, and the sewer-mouthed antics of pint-sized Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson), who alternates between antagonizing Wheeler and picking up the man’s girl-watching techniques. Both of the kids are good, although audience members familiar with Mintz-Plasse’s turn as McLovin in “Superbad” might not buy him as a seemingly younger, less worldly version of the high school geek.
The remainder of the cast, including terrific supporting players like Ken Marino (another of the movie’s writers), Ken Jeong and Jo Lo Truglio, is excellent, but it is Jane Lynch who steals the movie as Sturdy Wings founder and former cokehead Gayle Sweeny. Lynch is brilliant as the off-kilter, high-strung motivator, and the way in which she caroms wildly from protective and nurturing to thoroughly age-inappropriate provides the film with its most memorable moments. Blurting out intimate information with shockingly unfiltered self-disclosure, the veteran Lynch proves once again that she deserves her own lead role in one of these types of comedies.
This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 11/10/08.