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Testing the Laugh Formula: Even children using profanity can't save Role Models 

click to enlarge And that, boys, is why you wouldn't last five minutes in Sturgis.
  • And that, boys, is why you wouldn't last five minutes in Sturgis.
And that, boys, is why you wouldn't last five minutes in Sturgis.
In the recently ended political season, there was a comment much dissected and analyzed having to do with lipstick on a pig. I am trying hard to forget the context, but watching Role Models this unfortunate image came roaring back at me.

I suspect Judd Apatow is responsible in large part for the new comedy genre, which created the following formula: relentless amounts of crudeness, the raunchier the better, followed by an awakened heart, followed by a gauzy enlightenment. And in capable hands, it works. You get potty humor and leave the theater feeling good about the world. We're going to make it, man.

But in the wrong hands, watch out. David Wain directs here, best known perhaps for the cult favorite Wet Hot American Summer. But let's get our characters straight. Paul Rudd (Danny) and Sean William Scott (Wheeler) are energy drink salesman. And the early stages of this movie were the best. They had spontaneity and (sorry!) energy. And it is the only part of the movie where you see Danny and Wheeler really play off each other in funny and believable situations.

The drink they peddle is called Minotaur, which is why the pair drives around in a mammoth pickup with the Minotaur sculpture riding high above the cab. On stage at local schools, Wheeler, dressed as the Minotaur, and Danny unleash their caffeinated anti-drug message to bewildered audiences. This is the setup. The writing is funny and has not been trampled on by the trailer, yet.

We learn Danny is down on his career, whereas Wheeler pronounces he could do this for the next fifty years - "I love this job. You can do it hung over." Elizabeth Banks plays the strikingly implausible lawyer who is running out of patience with Danny's angst and her disaffection causes Danny boy to snap. As a result, Danny and Wheeler run afoul of the law and have two choices: jail or community service.

Enter Jane Lynch, who has made a fine career out of quintessentially funny cameos. She plays a reformed drug enthusiast, all the while spitting out golden soliloquies, who has founded "Sturdy Wings," a program that assigns both Wheeler and Danny to two non-mainstream kids.

Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Augie), in particular, distinguishes himself as the kid caught in another era, pretending to be a Caledonian in a kind of expanded Drake Park medieval joust fest. Wheeler is given Bobb'e J. Thompson (Ronnie) as his community project. There is undoubtedly something very funny about having ten-year-old children recite strings of obscenities, but I have to admit, I don't get it. The theater rang out at each outburst. It just seems like setting the bar pretty low, that's all.

But the real problem for me with the movie was that it was strung together with a series of bits and pieces really heading nowhere. The change in Wheeler and Danny we see coming before we take our seats, does indeed progress. But the movie asks us suddenly to change gears from potty room sneering to serious heart pumping catharsis in ways that are not only a stretch of the imagination, but also done so awkwardly that I wondered if DVD revenue was the chief goal here and anything gained from the theatrical release was gravy.

Movies like Spanglish and Knocked Up demonstrate that the age old "comedy with a heart" can work. But I guess like anything else, it depends what you're after. Sometimes a light beer after work tastes great.

Role Models ★★✩✩✩

Starring: Paul Rudd, Sean Williams Scott, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Bobb'e J. Thompson. Rated R. Directed by David Wain.


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