Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Ellen Pompeo, Jeremy Piven, Juliette Lewis, Craig Kilborn
MPAA Rating: (for some strong sexual content, nudity and language)
Running Time: 1:31
Release Date: 2/21/03
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Review by Mark Dujsik
There's nothing more socially pathetic than people who just will not grow up. One of the many major problems with Old School is that it thinks such a mindset is amiable and worthwhile and embraces it with a sort of irresponsible joy. Something funny could have been made of such ideas and attitudes (and it has been made before), but if I laughed once during Old School, I have either blocked it out or the memory of the moment is completely overshadowed by the hundreds of other moments in which the best the movie could elicit from me was a weak smile. I've seen material like this done better and worse, but even on its own, the movie is a nondescript, laugh-less, tedious exercise in putting material on screen that just isn't funny on its own and expecting one to laugh at it. Fully developed jokes are absent from this script, which—I am not surprised to learn—had three people working on it at one point or another. If someone isn't even going to bother to tell me a joke, don't expect me to laugh.
Mitch Martin (Luke Wilson) has a boring job and a problem with people walking all over him. It's that trait that allows a cab driver to insult him on his way to the airport for his early flight home where he discovers his girlfriend Heidi (Juliette Lewis) with two blindfolded, partially clothed people in her bedroom. After Mitch's introduction, we move to the wedding of Mitch's friend Frank (Will Ferrell), where his other, unintroduced friend Beanie (Vince Vaughn) continues the long-standing and unlikely movie tradition of telling his buddy to back out of marriage on the day of the ceremony. Of course, it fails, but life goes on. Mitch gets a new house just off campus of the local college, and Beanie decides to throw him a block party to get him acquainted with the neighborhood. Somehow, Beanie gets Snoop Dogg to appear at the party, which begs the question: how does the owner of a piddly local electronics store get Snoop Dogg to appear at a party? Anyway, the party goes great, and Beanie has such a good time that he decides to start a fraternity.
It's the answer to all their problems, right? Well, technically, the fact that these guys are bored with life probably has more to do with who they are as people. Maybe pining for the old days isn't the best course of action, and they should be looking for something fulfilling in the present. But that's a different discussion. Essentially the central problem with the movie is that there's no development of any kind to be found—character, plot, joke, etc. Instead, an idea is tossed out—let's say, statutory rape, for example—and it sits there waiting for someone to breathe some life into it. All right, so the statutory rape "gag" is a bad example, because I must have been absent the day statutory rape became funny. You get the idea, though. Other embarrassing misfires include gags involving animal abuse, cinderblock emasculation, reckless driving, and so on. On top of that, whatever semblance of a joke that appears is so boringly predictable as to ruin whatever shock value it may have had. The instant the girl Mitch slept with the night before walks into his boss' office, it's obvious they're going to reveal she's in high school.
The same thing goes with the cast, which provides a few glaring and tell-tale signs of scraping the bottom of the barrel. Craig Kilborn shows up somehow, and even though he's appropriately playing a jerk, it's still a bad sign. Jeremy Piven plays that clichéd evil dean, an homage too obvious to work. Vince Vaughn has a few good moments, but his appearance in a clown suit is one of those things you wouldn't have thought would be disturbing until you actually see it. Vaughn knows what he's doing, but the movie has no idea what to do with his character. Luke Wilson is too bland here to stand out as the hero. In fact, the only character who stands out is Will Ferrell's Frank, which is unfortunate given the fact that I find Ferrell one of the more lifeless comic performers around today. You can always rely on him to make a scene about ten seconds too long with his noticeably strained improvisations. The other problem is with his character. The movie cleverly sidesteps around the fact that he's an alcoholic (the only clever thing the movie accomplishes). That's why his wife is concerned about him returning to his "Frank the Tank" days, and that's why it's incredibly not funny that he returns to them.That's the kind of thing you think about watching a comedy without laughs such as Old School. Another thing I noticed is the general contempt for women. It's not vicious, hateful misogyny. No women are physically harmed for the fun of it, which may seem like an odd thing to point out, but anyone who saw Tomcats understands why I must do so. It's subtle. It's the way the horribly misused Ellen Pompeo is made to look very attractive until she starts being critical of our hero. It's Juliette Lewis' character. And, of course, it's how we know the girl who says that "fraternity guys are losers" will be rejected. That's what happens when a comedy provides nothing for you to laugh at: the little things get under your skin.
Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.