September 29, 2006 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Film | September 29, 2006 |


Author’s Note: To extract a miniscule amount of amusement from its sorry subject, the review below liberally employs a whimsical conceit; the apparent vitriol inherent in this particular approach should be taken no more seriously than the film itself — that is, not at all. If a traditional review of a Jon Heder flick is something you’d prefer, however, go check out Joel Siegel instead — I’m sure he thinks Scoundrels was a “delightful romp.”

Let me demonstrate the premise behind School of Scoundrels by way of illustration: A few days ago, a reader took umbrage with my (ironic) characterization of the men of Jackass and suggested that I seemed “like one of those kids who always got picked last in gym class.” To the author of that insightful comment, I say this: Do you think you’re the first plebeian douchebag to suggest that a movie critic was picked last in PE? Do you even think you’re the first to suggest as much to me? Where did you pick up that insult — some two-bit refrigerator-repair school where everyone recycles 1950s putdowns? Are you kidding me? If you’re going to hurl insults, at least have a little panache, a touch of invective. And really, who the hell cares where I was picked in gym class, and what does it have to do with Jackass? For the record, I was picked in the middle of the pack, between the jocks and the special-ed kids, who at least had a genetic excuse for their mild retardation. But I’m happy for you, sir, that you were the type of guy who got picked first in ninth-grade volleyball. Do you put that on your résumé now? Is that how you got your job in the stockroom at Circuit City? Is your gym-placement tattooed on your arm, somewhere underneath your short-sleeved dress shirt, so you don’t forget it? Were you also the star pupil of your shop class, because that might get you a job in woodworking, which is at least unionized, you insipid prat. So far as I can tell, the selection process in junior-high gym class is not particularly determinative of one’s success in life and, besides, it seems wholly beside the point when we’re talking about a film in which one of the leads has a dildo launched into his anus.

You see, School of Scoundrels is about the kind of dweebs picked last in gym class and how they rise up against their aggressors. More accurately, however, it’s about the guys who got picked first in class and then stumble through the rest of their lives as schlubby used-car salesmen thinking that it somehow mattered. And in the spirit of that premise, I choose to rise up against an aggressively shitty movie. School of Scoundrels is, in fact, the worst kind of film: the kind that promises angry, vengeful Sandlerian outbursts and delivers decaffeinated platitudes. The kind that casts subversives like Sarah Silverman and David Cross to bring in folks like myself and then relegates them to meaningless, humor-free, bit parts. And the kind of film that looks to make use of Billy Bob Thornton’s bitter crustiness and then gives him an unspectacular role with all the bite of a infant suckling on a pacifier (in other words, a Jeff Daniels part).

And listen, Billy Bob — what happened, man? You used to make the occasional great film: Sling Blade, The Apostle, Monster’s Ball, or even Friday Night Lights. And then you were cast in Bad Santa (great role, by the way) and now all you do are mean-spirited, crusty, old, drunken shitbags? You’re a little too young to resign yourself to the late Walter Matthau’s roles, aren’t you? And if you’re actually going to take them, at least find a script that gives you something to work with, for God’s sake — not films penned by the guy behind freakin’ Starsky and Hutch. And for the love of baby Jesus: Don’t star in movies that poorly attempt to rip off the premise behind Rushmore and then take the Bill Murray role — you’re not Bill fucking Murray.

And minus the crumpled bicycle, that’s exactly what School for Scoundrels is: It’s about a mentor, Dr. P (Thornton) who teaches his students how to be an asshole and wear sunglasses inside, which is somehow supposed to get them laid. You see, Roger (Jon Heder) is Dr. P’s star pupil, who shines in the paintball exercise by shooting the big scary wildebeest (Michael Clarke Duncan) before he anally rapes his classmates (Todd Louiso, Horatio Sanz, and Matt Walsh). And, obviously a student who would deign to prevent involuntary anal sex is a man to be reckoned with, so Dr. P challenges Roger by going after the woman he is in love with, Amanda (Jacinda Barrett — who has all the charm of a naked bracelet). And from there, the competition for Amanda theoretically escalates, if you consider shooting tennis balls at each other’s groins, spray-painting a dog, or towing away someone’s car to be “escalation.” (I consider them pranks below even the members of Alpha Kappa Lambda).

The premise itself — as recycled as it is — at least has some comedic potential, but no one bothers to mine it here, because that might actually require effort. I suppose that director Todd Phillips thought that casting Jon Heder to recreate his Napoleon Dynamite doofus — right down to the tacky gym shorts — would be “Awesome!” but, really, it’s just kind of lame — Heder just stands around and expects us to laugh at his teeth, I guess. And really? Horatio Sanz? Being fat, in and of itself, isn’t funny, is it? Because, so far as I can tell, that’s all that Sanz has going for him. And if that’s all it takes to make it nine years on SNL, then I suppose I ought to start my Morgan Spurlock diet soon.

And of course, Ben Stiller is in the movie just long enough to get his goddamn face in the trailers and sell a few tickets, but c’mon: There’s nothing inherently amusing about a silly moustache and greasy extensions if you don’t do something with it, and Stiller spends his four minutes of screen time flipping through a scrapbook or driving. Hell, when you can’t even exploit Ben Stiller’s limited talents for self -abuse, then what’s the fucking point of having him your movie? The least you can do is have the man randomly take a mallet to his balls — it’s not funny, but at least it’s something.

Listen: School of Scoundrels is dumb, people. Motherfucking dumb. Stupid, pointless, and a waste of two hours that could’ve been better spent contemplating why you were never picked first in gym class. And what’s worse is that it doesn’t even try to be funny and fail at it, it just stands around like an unfinished outline waiting to be filled in. Seriously, it looks like someone filmed dress rehearsal and the studios sent it off to the printers in hopes of soaking a few more dollars out of Jon Heder before his 15 minutes ran out. Unfortunately, it looks like they were too late.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives in a blue house with his wife in a hippie colony/college town in upstate New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.

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It All Boils Down to Ninth-Grade Gym Class, Doesn't It?

School for Scoundrels / Dustin Rowles

Film | September 29, 2006 | Comments ()




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