Dir: David Wain. US. 2008. 99 mins.
A superbly-cast comedy, Role Models manages to locate and till fresh ground in the ascendant guys-behaving-badly sub-genre of American studio comedies.
Both Paul Rudd (Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) and Seann William Scott (the American Pie films) are best known as ensemble comedic players who have yet to prove themselves commercially as leading men. That fact - as well as the potential staying power of Kevin Smith's raunchy Zack and Miri Make a Porno, opening one week earlier and aimed at a similar demographic - may dent Role Models' initial box office haul domestically, but the two lead performances are so enjoyable that word-of-mouth should give the film some holdover success.
Given the absence of a top-shelf box office name and relative lack of big, slapstick-powered set pieces, international returns will do well to account for 25 percent of the movie's total gross. Ancillary value, though, should be above-average to high, with college-age consumers ferreting out quotable nuggets of dialogue via repeat viewings.
Anson Wheeler (Scott) and Danny Donahue (Rudd) are a pair of Minotaur Energy Drink reps who make their living travelling from school to school peddling their product as a hip, safe alternative to drugs. For unrepentant ladies man Wheeler, this is the high life. Danny, however, is bitter and listless. H e has a sardonic, hair-trigger temper that frustrates his live-in, long-time lawyer girlfriend (Banks).
When a public outburst results in a sentence of community service for them both, Danny and Wheeler are assigned to 'Sturdy Wings', a mentorship program run by a former addict (Lynch). There, Danny is paired with Augie (Mintz-Plasse), an introverted teenager obsessed with medieval, live-action interactive role-play, and Wheeler is paired with the younger Ronnie (Thompson), a fatherless kid prone to foul-mouthed outbursts. Various mishaps ensue. Initially attempting to just bide their time and clock the necessary hours, Danny and Wheeler soon find themselves caring, against their previous instincts.
David Wain, who honed his skills with the comedy collective The State, has impeccable skill at crafting self-contained scenes, while still managing not to sell out the nature of his characters.
A big part of Role Models' success stems simply from the superb comic timing and expertly orchestrated interactions of its cast, who are for the most part very familiar with one another. Rudd, who receives his first screenplay credit on Role Models, has a working history with his co-writers dating back to 2001's summer camp send-up Wet Hot American Summer, which also Some of the set-ups feel familiar, and the film's energy does flag a bit when required to highlight a moment of growth, as when Danny tells off Augie's parents. Still, the across-the-board strength of the performances makes these concessions easy enough to swallow. Rudd's seething deadpan resentment and Scott's libidinal recklessness make for a fun pairing.
Supporting turns are equally engaging, meanwhile. Lynch steals plenty of her scenes. Mintz-Plasse, who rocketed to notoriety as McLovin in last year's Superbad, puts an only slightly different spin on the nerdy outcast archetype here, but it's certainly a characterisation that's still worth a few laughs. The charismatic Thompson showcases a whirling dervish energy which augurs well for his own starring, raunchy vehicle in a decade's time.
Paul Rudd & David Wain & Ken Marino and Timothy Dowling
Timothy Dowling and William Blake Heron
Russ T. Alsobrook
Seann William Scott
Bobb'e J. Thompson