November 13, 2008

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Role Models (R)
Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott seek to inspire the youth and stay out of jail in Role Models, a movie based mostly on the premise that it’s funny when little kids swear.

And guess what — it is funny when little kids swear. When Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson), the 10-year-old who is being mentored by Scott’s character, swore and said inappropriate things, I laughed. Perhaps all these years of watching lowest-common-denominator humor have lowered my own personal standards, perhaps our culture is indeed coarsening and I along with it. Or maybe it’s just funny when kids say the F-word.

Personally, I think the latter.

Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Scott) spend their days going from one school to the next trying to sell kids on an energy drink called Minotaur under the extremely thin pretense of also telling them to stay off drugs. For Wheeler, dressing up in the Minotaur costume by day and bedding a new woman each night is the perfect life. For Danny, his bitter feelings toward his job have only turned him into a dark knot of hate (a hilarious dark knot of hate, I might add), who is dumped by his longtime girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks). This turn of events sends him over the edge, leading to reckless and somewhat physics-defying behavior with the Minotaur monster truck that causes him and Wheeler to get arrested and face a month in jail. Luckily, Beth is a lawyer and gets the sentence knocked down to community service. How will they serve? By being mentors to youngsters at Sturdy Wings, a program that matches an adult (Big) with a kid (Little) with whom they can have educational and enriching outings.

Or, in the case of Wheeler and his “Little” Ronnie, talk about boobies, which is the foul-mouthed Ronnie’s favorite topic of conversation. Wheeler and Ronnie bond when Wheeler introduces Ronnie to KISS and explains to the youngster that most of their songs are about sex.

With Danny and his “Little,” a teenager named Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, most notably McLovin of Superbad fame), the subject of girls is secondary to talk of knights and elves. Augie is part of a live-action, Dungeons & Dragons-ish tournament group, wherein armor-wearing, sword-wielding teams fight for a crown in the local park until soccer practice starts. Augie does in fact like one of the other teenage re-enactors but he’s too shy to say more than a nervous “hi” to her.

If you’ve seen Ronnie call Danny “Reindeer Games” in one of this movie’s trailers, you get a sense of what is so stupidly endearing about this movie. Rudd does look a little like a sarcastic, beleaguered-by-life version of Ben Affleck. That a 10-year-old could even make that comparison is absurd. But it all works.

These four central actors — Mintz-Plasse, Rudd, Scott, Thompson — are pretty much perfect at their parts. Mintz-Plasse makes the perfect nerd, Thompson is the perfect hellion, Scott is the perfect earnest party-boy dunce, Rudd is the perfect Paul-Rudd-character.

Perfect too are the supporting characters. Banks might not be your first choice for the different roles she’s been in lately (this movie’s straight man, the desperate Miri in Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Laura Bush in W.) but she’s worked in all of them. Jane Lynch, who plays the Sturdy Wings director, is more enjoyable with every bizarre role she plays. From Christopher Guest movies like A Mighty Wind and Best in Show to her big-box-store manager in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Lynch gets more wonderfully, hilariously odd with each role. Here, she is able to work the cliché “don’t B.S. a B.S.-er” to absurd new heights. Ken Marino and Kerri Kenney, both with Reno 911! and The State on their résumés, have only bit parts as Augie’s parents but are delightful additions to this comedy.

Role Models is all about the kind of thin comedy that easily could have died a death of cheap jokes and painful mugging. The perfection here is in the casting, which gives a certain amount of cleverness to the very eighth-grade-boy, “that’s what she said” level of humor and brings a real charm to these screwball characters. B+

Rated R for crude and sexual content, strong language and nudity. Directed by David Wain and written by Wain, Paul Rudd, Ken Marino, Timothy Dowling and W. Blake Herron, Role Models is an hour and 39 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Universal Pictures.