Sunday, October 01, 2006

School for Scoundrels


As my mind started to drift away from Todd Phillips' instantly forgettable "School for Scoundrels," I thought of what might make a pretty good documentary, or at least a reality TV show. Call it ... "School for Filmmakers."

Your first assignment: Start with these ingredients and make a movie that generates more than one laugh.

First, a cast full of very funny people: Billy Bob Thornton, David Cross, Matt Walsh, Sarah Silverman, Todd Louiso, Horatio Sanz and Luis Guzman. For your leads, Jon Heder, with his legion of devoted "Napoleon Dynamite" fans, and the supercute Jacinda Barrett, currently the "it" girl of the moment.

If that's enough, we'll give you a fantastic premise: A class, run by Billy Bob Thornton, where wusses go to discover their inner asshole.

Now, clearly I'm not a movie director, but surely Todd Phillips could have made something even remotely funny with this mix. And he did make me laugh. Exactly once, before the class even starts. After Heder hangs up on Thornton's Dr. P in fear during their initial conversation, Dr. P calls him back and says "Congratulations, you're already my worst student."

Sorry to give it away, but consider it a warning. If you're expecting anything close to a comedy, this movie is not it.

I think the problem is one of commitment. Phillips, who shares screenwriting credits along with being the director, seems absolutely terrified of offending anyone.

I had the same problem with "The Ringer." If you're gonna make a movie about a guy who actually tries to rig the Special Olympics, don't make him into a good guy who's just being set up. Make him a real jerk.

Phillips likewise cops out with "Scoundrels." The stunts that Dr. P puts his students through don't even come close to being cruel enough to deliver laughs. They're just, well, boring.

And I hate to say it, but as Jon Heder keeps making movies, I'm beginning to wish there had never been a "Napoleon Dynamite." Don't get me wrong, I love that movie. He was perfect in it, but if he's just gonna keep playing the same part over and over again, someone has to stop him now. Please.

The role of Dr. P, if written with the right amount of dark comedy, would have been perfect for Billy Bob. He's proven he has a natural gift for comedy. I loved him in "Bad Santa" and "Bandits." Heck, I even liked him in Linklater's remake of "Bad News Bears," even though that one should probably never have been made. Here, however, he's given absolutely nothing to work with, and you can tell he's just coasting throughout.

I know this has gone on quite a while now, but I need to vent about one more thing, so just bear with me. I've never met Todd Phillips, so I can't say this for sure, but he certainly seems to have some issues with black people.

In this movie, there are exactly three that I noticed with speaking parts. Two appear in the first five minutes to menace Heder's meter maid character, stealing his uniform and shoes, along with all his money. Ok, fair enough. Nobody likes meter maids.

But what Micheal Clark Duncan, who is a very good actor, is asked to do in this one is just pathetic. He is some kind of sidekick to Dr. P who, as a means of intimidating the students, apparently anally rapes them (hey, don't shoot the messenger). I couldn't help flashing back to "Birth of a Nation" (yes, my mind does wander) and wondering if Phillips thought that would work great as a comedy. It's not just hateful, it's repulsive.

OK, I feel better now. I usually tell people to go see a movie and make their own mind up instead of just taking my word for it, but with this one I can't even do that. Save your money and just say no to "School for Scoundrels."

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've never met Todd Phillips, so I can't say this for sure, but he certainly seems to have some issues with black people.

I wonder if you could elaborate on this. I somewhat agree with their negative portrayal in SfS -- but frankly, I was more offended that they had an Indian guy in the class and barely used him.

All I can remember about black people in Old School was Snoop Dogg's cameo, and the token XXXL pledge who suffers from a hazing incident gone awry. What else has he done to demonstrate a pattern?

Reel Fanatic said...

It's mainly this movie that made me concerned, Neel ... Maybe I was overreacting to Duncan's role in "Scoundrels," but I thought it was just sickening ... However, if you go back to "Road Trip," a Todd Phillips movie I liked quite a bit, one of the few speaking parts for a black character was the poor woman who had to play the "fat chick" who deflowered D.J. Qualls' character ... A pattern was emerging, I think, which came to full fruition here

Sadie Lou said...

I'm going to have to bite my lip and resist the urge to say "I told you so". I agree with you on the kid from Naploean Dynamite--the routine is a good one but should only be done once. You can't be a one trick pony and expect to break into the scene as a real actor--he's gonna find out that his fans will start to hate him too...

jeremy said...

I can't believe you spilled so much virutal ink on, what is obviously, a crap movie.

Lori said...

Wow...I guess I saw all the really funny stuff in the trailer then.

Reel Fanatic said...

This is definitely one where the trailer has all the good stuff, Lori .. In fact, the trailer for Stranger than Fiction, shown before this one, contained many more laughs than all of School for Scoundrels

newbluebaby said...

Go to YouTube and search for Karl and Napoleon. You'll see Billy Bob, in Sling Blade mode and Jon, in Napoleon mode, having a conversation.

marina said...

Oh man! That sucks! I really wanted to see this one but was otherwise occupied this weekend. I guess I may just add it to the list of rentals.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'll definitely have to check that out, newbluebaby ... It definitely sounds like it would be more entertaining than even one minute of School of Scoundrels

Simon A said...

I seem to be one of the few people who found Old School to be severely overrated. I skipped Starsky and Hutch altogether. On top to the racist stuff, wasting Sarah Silverman? Phillips should be blacklisted.

Reel Fanatic said...

I thought Old School was pretty good Simon, but a definite step down from Road Trip .. School for Scoundrels just confirms that Mr. Phillips downward trajectory is complete

* (asterisk) said...

I probably will never see School for Scoundrels. I loathed Napoleon Dynamite, but I do like Billy Bob.

I was surprised to see this is a remake of an old British movie of the same name...

Bloody remakes!