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Rudd, Scott lead by example in Role Models

by Glen Baity

As Role Models makes plain, you don’t have to be a bad guy to end up in front of a judge. You just have to have a few bad days. Danny (Paul Rudd) isn’t a bad guy, and he isn’t misanthrope, really. He’s more like a classic grouch, a guy with a million pet peeves who can’t shrug them off like most people do. He hates it

when people say “I heard that!” to indicate they agree with you. He hates people who pronounce ASAP “ay-sap.” He hates having to say “venti” when he orders a large coffee. As it happens, I hate all of these things too. So I like Danny. He’s a guy who doesn’t like ridiculous things.

Shame, then, about his chosen career path. He and his doofus buddy Wheeler (Seann William Scott) travel to high schools pimping a probably-toxic energy drink called Minotaur (“It’s not poison,” Wheeler explains, “it’s got juice in it”). An honest man can only push himself so far, and soon enough the combined pressures of Danny’s idiotic job and his failing relationship with Beth (Elizabeth Banks) get the better of him. He throws a public temper tantrum that lands him in legal hot water, and he and Wheeler are sentenced to community service. They end up at Sturdy Wings, a relentlessly upbeat mentoring program that pairs troubled adolescents with volunteers or, failing that, criminals performing court-ordered good deeds. There they meet Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson) and Augie (Christopher Mintz- Plasse) two mixed-up kids in need of a couple of big brother figures. Danny and Wheeler have to spend 150 hours with these uniquely challenged young people before they can return to poisoning the youth in more conventional ways via their Red Bull knockoff. It’s a sitcom premise, but if you know director David Wain’s work with sketch comedy groups the State or Stella, or his 2001 cult hit Wet Hot American Summer, you’ll know to anticipate some positively left-field plot points. You won’t be disappointed.

Role Models is more structured and mainstream than his previous projects, but there’s an undercurrent of big-time weirdness that makes the film surprising in all sorts of little ways. Just to give you an idea: It culminates in a no-holds-barred, live-action role-play battle royale that you just have to see to believe. It’s a long sequence, set at a community park, shot like a scene from Braveheart, and the film commits to it all the way. I was in awe. The movie benefits enormously from a strong cast led by Paul Rudd, an underrated comic actor who rarely gets credit for his excellent timing. He develops a solid rhythm with Mintz- Plasse, whom you should remember as McLovin from 2007’s Superbad. Mintz- Plasse plays a different type of geek here, a little sadder, more noble and, if possible, more awkward. It’s hilarious stuff, and surprisingly he’s a perfect match for Rudd’s withering sarcasm. Scott and his protégé score some laughs as well, but to be honest, I didn’t enjoy that aspect of the film as much, having reached my Stifler threshold around the middle of the first American Pie. To Scott’s credit, he’s dialed down a bit in this role and frankly more likeable than I ever imagined he could be. I’d also be remiss not to mention the great supporting work by the alwayshilarious Jane Lynch and Ken Jeong, good additions to any comedy and perfect oddballs here. The story and script have a combined five authors, which makes it all the more surprising it’s so strong. Movies written by committee can be jarringly uneven, but Role Models finds a tone early and manages to stick with it. That’s not to say it’s flawless, of course — the film is vulgar, which I don’t have a problem with personally, but it can sometimes seem shoehorned in for the sake of shock value. The underlying message — be true to yourself, others’ opinions be damned — is nice enough, but comes off a little corny next to the film’s more subversive qualities. And Elizabeth Banks, a consistently strong and funny actor, isn’t given very much to do in the film, which seems like a waste. Those problems aside, though, Role Models is good for plenty of laughs. It’s also fairly short at just over an hour and a half, a noteworthy quality in the age of the Judd Apatow epic comedy. Finally — and this is no small feat — it manages to appeal to the curmudgeon in its viewer without coming off as mean. Grouches everywhere might find themselves a few role models here.

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