NetFlix Review #20: Role Models

Many many moons ago there was a sketch comedy team called The State. They were a mystery to me. I never saw the show, but my friends quoted me every sketch verbatim. I bought their book, State by State with The State, and considered it a comedy treasure. In college I saw Wet Hot American Summer and adored it. But then... something happened. Some of them did Reno: 911, which I've never found funny. Then there was Stella, which I also didn't find funny. I sat through The Ten and watched a ton of people I usually find hilarious fall completely flat. There was Wainy Days, The Baxter, Taxi, The Pacifier, Herby: Fully Loaded, Balls of Fury, Diggers, Run Fatboy Run, Night at the Museum and every single time Michael Ian Black showed up on any I Love the ____ show - None of them all that funny. What the hell happened? The State has just been released on DVD after a long struggle to get it out, and although I'm curious to see this show I heard so much about throughout my formative years, part of me can't help but wonder - was it just a "you had to be there" kind of cultural event?

The point of all this being that I never saw Role Models in the theaters, despite many people telling me how funny it was, as I found it so difficult to remember the last time any of these guys had made me really laugh. The final verdict: I was wrong. And yet...

The movie follows two men who push energy drinks, played by Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott. Through highjinks and shenanigans the two are faced with jail time or volunteering at a mentorship program, helping out two kids so dysfunctional they can't keep a mentor for long. Think you know where this is going? You're probably right.

You can't talk about this movie without talking about charm. Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott are, to me, goofy charm machines. I'm sure they're not everyone's cup of tea, but I'm always excited to see them on-screen. And, in a way, this is kind of my issue with the movie.

It's hard to be funny, really and truly funny. If you doubt this, simply watch any sitcom on ABC, or anything on Comedy Central that isn't The Daily Show, The Colbert Report or South Park. If you are a funny person, people seem to believe, especially in Hollywood, that the humor you produce isn't through hard work, diligence, the scrutiny of the world around you and the study of how to build and execute a joke, but instead it is secreted out of your pores like some sort of hormone, a natural byproduct of your wacky genetic make-up. Consequently they believe that they can simply insert you into whatever bare-bones, bottom-level project they've got lying around on the cheap and you'll be able to make it funny because, you know, you're a funny dude. This is how movies like Semi-Pro or Night at the Museum get made. And, in a sense, this is how a movie like Role Models gets made.

I feel like I'm being a bit of a grumpy gus here, because I did really enjoy myself during the movie, but as I think back over it I do feel like I have to mention that most of the stuff I liked about it seem to be no fault of the movie itself, but just watching Rudd and Scott riff off each other. Whenever I think back on the jokes that are actually constructed into the film there are only a couple that have any real zing to them. For instance, the character of Martin Gary, the overly-earnest serial volunteer at the organization Scott and Rudd are sentenced to. Outside of his "Wings" joke, nothing he does is particularly funny, nor does he set up any great jokes. He's a funny idea, but that's about as far as they got. The same can be said for Jane Lynch's character. I feel like I can hear the entire conversation that led up to her character in my head: "How are we going to make the head of this Big Brothers-type foundation funny?" "How about if she runs this charity, but she used to be a total coke whore, and she brings that up all the time?" "Awesome. Ok, next character." And that's it. They're smart enough to hire someone like Jane Lynch, a pro at drawing the funny out of the smallest of appearances, but even then there's not that much to it. And poor Elizabeth Banks is particularly wasted. As I keep reading article after article about how Judd Apatow is a terrible, woman-hating, vagina-loathing, estrogen-fearing monster, it's interesting no one has mentioned any of these The State people. Look at the crappy, under-written roles they keep doling out to actresses, like Elizabeth Banks in both this movie and The Baxter, or Carla Gugino in Night at the Museum, or Thandie Newton in Run Fatboy, or any of the ridiculous female roles in Diggers. But I digress.

The point of all this being that it's kind of hard for me to say this is a "good movie," as it's largely some fun performances tacked onto a kind of crappy, really transparent story. WILL the two rogues end up liking their assigned kids? WILL they go to jail? WILL the climax to the movie have anything to do with the LARPing they show throughout the movie? WILL Banks and Rudd get together in the end? WILL Rudd and Scott become true friends? It's not that I need to necessarily be surprised by any of this, but it's all just kind of lazy. If you're hanging your story on such a lazy plot, you've got to come up with some pretty exceptional jokes or set-pieces to offset the predictability of the story. The Marx Brothers basically made the same movie over and over and over again, but they were constantly challenging themselves to come up with something bigger, wackier, zanier than what they'd done before. That sense of really pushing to find something new is what I feel is missing from many of these movies. It just seems like they're running down a checklist of things that are funny. Little black kid who cusses? Check. Uptight white woman who talks about crazy drugs? Check. LARPing? Check. People dressing like Kiss? Check. It's that laziness of "you guys are funny, so just, you know, be wacky!" that irritates me.

But like I said, I feel like this is very curmudgeonly, as I did laugh and laugh often during the movie. It's a fun flick, but really isn't offering you much more than the chance to see Paul Rudd and Sean William Scott say ridiculous things to each other for an hour and a half. However, there are certainly worse ways to spend an hour and a half.

Again, Night at the Museum, I'm glaring directly at you with vengeful, hate-filled eyes.

Jake Thomas

Story Writer. Marvel Comics Editor. Wrangler of Squids.