“Role Models” – Doesn’t Make Much of an Impression – 2 popcorns

Popcorn by Michael GoldbergerBy Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

Director David Wain’s “Role Models” uneventfully reminds that in the movies no good deed, especially as concerns children, is ventured unless mandated by the court system. Which is precisely how and why soft drink peddling partners Danny Donahue (Paul Rudd) and Anson Wheeler (Seann William Scott) come to be Big Brothers of sorts.

Well, “Bigs” will do. That’s what the social workers at Sturdy Wings call their, uh, volunteers. And the irascible and/or dejected kids they attempt to pair with their shanghaied Bigs are “Littles.” Here, the beneficiaries of Danny and Wheeler’s forced good will are the Dickensian-named Augie Farks and swearing prodigy Ronnie Shields.

Of course, the pairings were inevitable. Remember, self-centered, directionless folk don’t find meaning and purpose until forced to help others. So it is with Paul Rudd’s discontented Danny, unchallenged as a traveling spokesperson for Minotaur energy drink and up until now never completely committed to legal beagle girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks).

Seann William Scott’s Wheeler, on the other hand, is that brand of sidekick who would have been perfectly happy donning daily his Minotaur outfit and accompanying Rudd’s Generation Whatever Sancho Panza on his hypocritical rounds. But hey, if there’s a chance of this epiphany trickling down to the second banana, why not? Besides, it’s the law.

Wheeler was there at the big meltdown, when Danny’s undistinguished life came crashing down around him, dancing tauntingly in his face. In the flickers that’s enough justification to steal the tow truck that’s attempting to haul away your illegally parked, Minotaur-affixed truck. Being along for the albeit five-yard getaway makes Wheeler an accessory.

Next frame, we’re in Beth the lawyer-girlfriend’s swell office, wondering how nebbish Danny lassoed such an accomplished gal. Hmm…must be more to this dude than we thought. Never mind that she broke up with him when, after seven years of dating, he suddenly decides marriage might give him purpose. As a parting gift, she’d like to spare him jail.

Wheeler firmly establishes his idiocy at the sit-down when, grasping for loopholes, he begs pardon and inquires, “Isn’t the get out of jail card in Monopoly actually based in fact?” It’s the kind of screwball line that hints at a far greater potential than is realized by “Role Models.” Unfortunately, the film is afraid to break from its albatross of a mold.

So off to Danny and Wheeler’s community service it is, the result of a plea bargain crafted by long-suffering Beth. At Sturdy Wings, waiting to delightfully command every scene she’s in, is the ever-sturdy character actress Jane Lynch. Playing Gayle Sweeney, loony head honcho at the agency, her contribution makes the film seem better than it is.

Less interesting performances emanate from the woeful kids. Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Danny’s charge, Augie, is a reclusive, gawky nerd who becomes animated only whilst taking part in L.A.I.R.E., a medieval role-playing fantasy, chain mail and all. Bobb’e J. Thompson’s elfin Ronnie Shields is the precocious sexual obsessive in training.

Out of the mouths of these babes come occasional nuggets of wisdom and humor. But emblematic of the movie’s overall problem, far too much of their antics seems tacked-on and artificial. Rather than originating from an inspired source, “Role Models” appears constructed from comic parts pieced together per a poorly translated instruction manual.

Lousy production values render the flaws all the more glaring. Tinny, cheap movie sound quality, lacklustre cinematography and follow-the-numbers direction can’t help but involve the viewer in the troubled process rather than in the story. With no surprises in the offing and a rote plot, it’s way too much for the sporadically droll lines to support.

Still, you can’t help but notice the unrealized possibilities of co-writer Paul Rudd’s entry into the irreverent comedy sweepstakes. Among the overwrought cascade of adolescents-in-a-playground profanity, there is wit deserving of a better movie to enfold it. Danny’s rants concerning trite expressions like ASAP and 24/7 strike a darkly mirthful vein.

But faint glimmers of hope aside, “Role Models” makes its hackneyed tour of all the expected moralisms with the certainty of an old horse’s instinctive return to the barn. The chemistry between Bigs and Littles, though limited by the stale script, isn’t bad. We hope the couplings prove beneficial. However, that’s our humanity at work, not the acting.

For those undeterred by this review, rest assured the DVD is destined for the dollar bin…and sooner before later. Otherwise, viewing prior to that time is suggested only upon receipt of complimentary movie passes, free TV broadcast or when “Role Models” is assigned in film class as an example of what pitfalls to avoid when making a comedy.

“Role Models,” rated R, is a Universal Pictures release directed by David Wain and stars Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott, Elizabeth Banks and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Running time: 99 minutes

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