It's only been a year since Knocked Up arrived in theaters, but since that time the top comedies in America have been branded Judd Apatow - or at least starred one of his many friends or colleagues. From Superbad to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, not to mention the Seth Rogen-starring Zack and Miri Make a Porno, these movies have been funny, engaging and witty. They're not for everyone, of course. With edginess comes crudeness, and not everyone likes to watch movies with a bunch of wisecracking men talking about sex and swearing a lot, but for the rest of us, these guys, whether it's Apatow or Rogen or Paul Rudd or what not, seemed to have found a perfect formula that doesn't look to be growing old anytime soon.
Enter Role Models. At first glance, the movie appeared to be one of those many forgettable comedies that appear over the course of a year; it had a funny concept, but the likelihood of anything beyond that was remote. The movie starred The 40-Year Virgin's Paul Rudd and American Pie's Seann William Scott, two rather funny men, but Apatow's name was nowhere to be found; Rudd, who also wrote the movie, appeared to be branching out, always a risky manuever. Hell, at least when Seth Rogen branches out he just jumps ship to Kevin Smith's domain, not to David Wain's camp, a man whose claim to fame thus far has been writing and directing the Paul Rudd-starring The Ten, which was just not that good at all. So, Role Models looked like a watered-down clone of better material in the past.
But wait! The very first scene is hilarious. And then the second. And then the third. The audience is laughing, not mere chuckles but hearty laughs. Hell, there were even a couple people who laughed just a little too long, and you can picture the guy's large stomach in the front jiggling as that deep sound emits from his throat; and tears coming from that girl with the shrill laugh that never seems to stop. We'll ignore the two drunks guys that had to leave within the first minutes to go puke in the bathroom. And then there are those jokes that seem to linger, where half of the audience laughed right away and the others catch on a second later, chiming in after the film is already moving on to it's next. Wow. This is not what I was expecting.
Role Models is one of the funniest movies of the year. Smart, edgy and ultimately heartfelt, the movie has its fair share of sex jokes, swearing and banter, but it works perfectly on many levels. Rudd, Wain and the couple of other co-writers took a simple concept and wrote an intelligent screenplay around it: two men get in trouble and are forced to do community service through working in a "Big Brothers Big Sisters" type of organization called "Sturdy Wings." They are each paired with a troubled kid, Rudd with McLovin' (Superbad's Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who prefers to dress up as a medieval warrior, and Scott with a 10-year old boy named Ronnie (Bobb'e J. Thompson), who is a massive troublemaker. Despite the odds, the four find commonality with one another, but not before lots of smack talking, female advice and inappropriate jokes ensue.
Beyond the clever screenplay, the movie is filled with the right people. Rudd and Scott are excellent in their respective roles, and both of the "boys," Mintz-Plasse and Thompson, are also on-note. Mintz-Plasse needs to be careful not to typecast himself, but he does play the socially awkward nerd so very well. Thompson is a force to be reckoned with, and just seeing him, a little African-American kid, dressed up as Kiss is priceless. Elizabeth Banks, who also starred in Zack and Miri, unfortunately doesn't have much to do, but Jane Lynch, who has had roles in The 40-Year Old Virgin and the Apatow dud Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, is hilarious as the Sturdy Wings founder, a woman who thinks she knows everything and is good at street-talk, but who basically comes off sounding like a frenetic idiot.
Role Models never loses its pacing, even in the final act, and we even get a few medieval battle scenes to boot. Go figure. There have been a lot of great comedies this year, and it's hard to determine exactly where this one falls, but Role Models is easily one of the funniest movies of 2008.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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