It may not be the most original comedy ever, but what “Role Models” lacks in originality of concept, it makes up for in the natural wittiness of its actors.
Directed and co-written by David Wain (director of “Wet Hot American Summer” and an alumni of MTV’s early-1990s sketch comedy show “The State”), “Role Models” follows the basic formula of the life-changing moment in some poor schlub’s life that happens suddenly and unexpectedly. Eventually, the tin man realizes the error of his ways and gets a heart.
What makes “Role Models” such a surprisingly funny film is in the details. Let’s start with the casting. Paul Rudd, so terrific in supporting roles in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” finally gets a movie that lets him be the leading man while showcasing his smart-ass, ultra-dry sense of humor. Rudd is the anti-obvious jokemeister. Where other actors would mug and get louder to telegraph the fact that they are doing comedy, Rudd simply torpedoes each statement with a nasty, biting remark.
He plays Danny, an unhappy promo man for Minotaur—an energy drink being sold to high schools as an alternative to doing drugs. His oversexed buddy Wheeler (Seann William Scott) accompanies Danny at school presentations in a full minotaur costume. The two get put into a Big Brother-type mentoring program after one particularly bad day at work ends with the corporate truck riding atop the school fountain.
It’s a ridiculous premise to be sure, made more ridiculous by the presence of a hard-charging reformed coke addict (played hilariously by Jane Lynch) as the head of child-mentoring group Sturdy Wings. Again, the funny is in the details. She assigns Danny and Wheeler two of the organization’s toughest cases, a foul-mouthed brat named Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson) and a teenaged social outcast named Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, proving that his McLovin character from “Superbad” was not the only role he could do) who likes to dress up as a knight and battle for a fictitious realm with foam swords in the park. They are not the most typical of troubled kids.
While the formula may be familiar, all of the comedic situations stem not from the absurdity of the situations, but from how seriously the characters take them. It’s a nice change. Despite the fact that it’s an R-rated movie, “Role Models” never panders to the level of fart jokes. Incredibly foul language, sure, but no fart jokes. It doesn’t need to pander because its actors actually elevate the material.
All that said, “Role Models” doesn’t have the deftness of touch as, say a Judd Apatow movie (although it employs about half of the actors from that same stable). It’s a sloppier movie that misses every now and then, and it doesn’t get nearly as deep with its themes or characterization. But it’s so fast-paced that it recovers from any ill-advised steps very quickly.
On a side note, I also have to add in what I am calling “the KISS factor.” My personal bias: I’ve been an unabashed KISS fan since I was six years old. Wheeler’s obsession with the titular 70s-glam heroes is a simple one. He loves the band because they get a lot of chicks and sing about it non-stop. This astute observation about “four Jewish guys from New York who dressed up like clowns” powers a lot of great jokes in the movie and make what would otherwise seem like a rote ending a lot more fun.