Jon Heder will forever be typecast as Napoleon Dynamite. If that isn't the case, I will be amazed beyond words. After all, every movie he has appeared in since has cast him as a dumbass loser, and School for Scoundrels, his latest, isn't much different.
School for Scoundrels stars Heder as a socially inept meter maid who has little confidence, especially when around his beautiful neighbor (played by Jacinda Barrett). After he is dumped by his Little Brother (of Big Brothers, Big Sisters), he decides to take a confidence-building class led by scumbag Billy Bob Thornton, who teaches "losers" how not to be themselves to get what they want. As a result, Heder makes surprisingly strong improvements and manages to get his foot in the door with his neighbor, but there is just one small problem... Billy Bob has set his sights on the same girl. Suddenly, it is student versus teacher as the two resort to lower and lower methods to get the girl and screw each other over.
Scoundrels works on a rudimentary level, as Heder does show that he is capable of headlining a film other than Napoleon Dynamite. He is a bit more normal here than he has been in other films (like The Benchwarmers), and isn't the hopeless loser you'd come to expect. Still, the character still feels like a toned-down version of Napoleon, and that's not necessarily a good thing. If Heder wants to and can do serious movies, then I'm all for it, but if he is going to continue to do comedies, he has to figure out some way to breakout of the Napoleon mode and do something completely different. As it stands now, he continues to remind us that he was indeed Napoleon, and anything that follows just isn't as good.
As for Billy Bob, he is good, but not great, and this problem applies to the movie as a whole. The DVD cover markets this film as "Bad Santa meets Napoleon Dynamite" (Rolling Stone), but that's really not true. Billy Bob is trying to be a creep, but his character is too gray to make you truly hate him. As for the movie, it tries to be edgy and scandalous, but it just isn't. School for Scoundrels is too nice, and a far leap off the crudity that Bad Santa offered.
Ultimately, School for Scoundrels is a moderately entertaining film that works on a few levels, but it fails to live up to its name. The movie should have been sleazy and just isn't, and thus there is little new to offer.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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