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Role Models: The New Model

by Lauren Gitlin November 7, 2008 9:49 am
Role Models: The New Model You could say that Judd Apatow and his cadre of actor/writer/producer/director friends have raised the bar for testosterone-fueled juvenilia. To some degree, we've come a long way from the Farrelly brothers and even the Kevin Smiths of the world, inasmuch as you can elevate dick jokes and nerd references to a slightly higher level. Perhaps because of his ubiquity, Apatow's particular breed of humor has been the Status quo for that specific genre for the last several years, and therefore most of us have learned to expect that much, but no more.

David Wain's latest offering, Role Models, is therefore a welcome departure from the middling bro comedies that have been inundating the cineplexes of late. Sure, the premise isn't much -- two guys with an Odd Couple dynamic get themselves on the wrong side of the law and end up having to serve community service, logging hours for a Big Brothers/Big Sisters-typed program, and hilarity ensues. But the devil is in the details. Wain's writing is more nuanced, more cerebral than the average buddy movie scribe's, and his pop-cultural touchstones much cultier. He's the thinking man's (or the hipster's?) Apatow, and in the case of Role Models, it makes for an uproarious thrill ride of laughs. (Wow, did I just write that?)

Partly owing to the fact that Wain's casting choices are very similar to Apatow's (Paul Rudd? Check. Jane Lynch? Check. McLovin Christopher Mintz-Plasse? Check and check) and partly due to the presence of Stifler, you might go into this movie expecting the regular fare, but you'd be in for a pleasant surprise, because it's so much more than that. The uniquely hilarious one-liners you likely saw in the promos ("I'm not here to service you, I'm here to service these young boys") merely scratch the surface. There's an entire subplot devoted to a live-action fantasy role-playing game that manages to be heartwarming without crossing the line into schlocky, and a romantic narrative arch that never threatens to overpower the purity of the slapstick gags.

Paul Rudd as the misanthropic working stiff Danny brings his usual A-game and is lovable even (especially?) when he's flying into a rage behind the wheel of a tricked-out monster truck. And even Seann William Scott, though typecast as the consummate frat guy douche he always plays, is subtle and likable. Jane Lynch as a reformed addict kills -- seriously when will this woman get the recognition she deserves? -- and a cameo from Ken Marino of The State as McLovin's asshole step-dad is small but notable. The real breakout star of this movie, as you might have gathered from the trailer, is newbie Bobb'e J. Thompson, whose brazen, boob-obsessed Ronnie owns every single scene he's in. You thought the "You want me to take my pants off?!" bit was funny? Wait til you see what it was he was coloring when Stifler came up to meet him. Trust me on this. That alone is worth the price of admission.

My point, if I have one, is that it'd be a mistake to write this movie off as the predictable manchild pap that's become so popular with the kids these days. It's that, sure, but deftly and superbly done. Apatow and company could learn a thing or two from Mr. Wain.

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