02 December 2008

Role Models

Role Models

Christmas cheer, teenage vampires, James Bond and heroic animals are crowding the multiplexes, and the end-of-the-year “prestige” pics are just around the corner. Yet a little comedy has shown enough legs to remain in wide release for the past month, quietly grossing nearly $58 million at the box office. It’s also one of the fall’s best movies.

The movie in question is Role Models. It’s not a Judd Apatow production, but you’re forgiven if you get that impression. The cast features several Apatow veterans, starting at the top with The Great Paul Rudd, as well as Elizabeth Banks, Jane Lynch and McLovin himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Just as important, Role Models has that distinct Apatow flavor, blending raunch with both wit and heart.

The titular characters are Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott), energy drink reps who peddle their product, Minotaur, at schools, promoting it as alternative to drugs. Wheeler, who wears the Minotaur costume, loves his job, but it’s not exactly the high life for Danny. After his lawyer girlfriend, Beth (Banks), dumps him, he goes on a rampage at a school that results in both he and Wheeler looking at some time behind bars. Thanks to some legal maneuvering by Beth, Danny and Wheeler, ordered to perform community service, end up in a Big Brother-style program called Sturdy Wings instead of the big house.

Wheeler is assigned to mentor the foul-mouthed Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson), while Danny ends up with Augie (Mintz-Plasse), a cape-wearing teenager hopelessly obsessed with a live-action, medieval role-playing game. The game is “LAIRE” and its players have names like Ruzzik (Joe Lo Truglio), Davith of Glencracken (Matt Walsh) and King Argotron (Ken Jeong). They wear elaborate costumes, fight each other with fake weapons, even cast spells. Augie makes McLovin cool by comparison, his mother (Kerri Kenney) and stepfather (Ken Marino) seemingly doing all they can to reinforce his misfit status. But the LAIRE battleground, where he says he doesn’t have to be himself, is the one place where his true personality shows through. Surrounded by people who share his love for the game, he is accepted, embraced. There’s even a pretty girl, Esplen (Alexandra Stamler), who has caught his eye, though he’s too shy to do anything more than occasionally “kill” her in battle.

Danny just wants to log his required hours, be rid of Augie and done with the 30-day jail sentence hanging over his head. LAIRE is a joke to him and he sees Augie as the same loser everyone else does—at first. As he gets to know him—and especially after he sees his home life—he has a change of heart. This is when the movie switches from being merely amusing to really good.

The Wheeler/Ronnie story line is not as interesting; neither character has the depth of Danny or Augie. The writers (four are credited, including Rudd and director David Wain) must have recognized that, as they gradually move them to the background before a wonderful finale on the LAIRE field of battle. KISS fans will get a little extra enjoyment out of it.

Role Models does not match The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad or Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but don’t hold that against it; those movies are the gold standard for comedy in this decade. Role Models is one of the best recent comedies not bearing the Apatow name.

Grade: B+

(Rated R for crude and sexual content, strong language and nudity. 99 minutes.)

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