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Dustin Putman

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Old School (2003)
1 Stars

Directed by Todd Phillips
Cast: Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Ellen Pompeo, Perrey Reeves, Jeremy Piven, Elisha Cuthbert, Jerod Mixon, Craig Kilborn, Sara Tanaka, Juliette Lewis, Leah Remini, Artie Lange, Andy Dick, Seann William Scott, Harve Presnell, Sarah Shahi
2003 – 90 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong sexual content, nudity, and language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 8, 2003.

With one of the most eclectic and fun casts of the new year and a return of sorts for director Todd Phillips to the campus comedy genre (after 2000's "Road Trip"), unsuspecting viewers walking into "Old School" may question how it could possibly fail. 90 minutes later, they will have woefully received their answer. Virtually exempt of any sort of plot and seemingly edited together with a chainsaw, the film is a startling mess, almost as unfunny as it is unoriginal.

Upon returning home from a business trip, 30-year-old Mitch Martin (Luke Wilson) discovers his beloved girlfriend, Heidi (Juliette Lewis), in the midst of a multiple-partner Internet hookup. Without a place to stay, he rents out a house on the fringes of Harrison University. When the Dean of the school (Jeremy Piven), an old, much-bullied classmate of his, finds out about his new living situation, Mitch is threatened to lose the house since he isn't a campus resident. Egged on by his frustrated, married buddies Frank (Will Ferrell) and Beanie (Vince Vaughn), who are looking to relive their fun-filled college days, Mitch starts his own fraternity that not only becomes the talk of the university, but makes him a star. Hijinks ensue.

Written by Todd Phillips and Scot Armstrong, "Old School" is a bad movie, plain and simple. Scene after scene is strung together by the barest of cohesive narratives, to the point where you are never even sure which act the movie is on. Meanwhile, the three central characters of Mitch, Frank, and Beanie have a certain potential to be interesting, but their development remains nonexistent, save for one or two key characteristics. Mitch is the nice guy. Frank is the recently married one with a low tolerance for alcohol or settling down. And Beanie is the hen-pecked husband and father who misses his past sexual escapades. When the movie ends, it simply cuts to the credits, without any of the characters having changed, or learned anything, and the story still waiting in the wings to even be introduced.

In all fairness, low-brow comedies do not need to be meaningful or even all that involving, just as long as they are funny and clever enough to carry you through a 90-minute running time. In the case of "Old School," the jokes are strictly of the worn out variety, not raunchy enough to be shocking and not imaginative enough to even elicit mild admiration. The sole comedic standout, in which a hilarious Andy Dick (2000's "Loser") plays a stereotypical gay sex tutor who instructs a group of women on how to give a blow job, has still been done many times before. The rest, such as a KY Jelly-infused pen fight and a tranquilizer gun that accidentally goes off into Frank's neck, are disposable.

As Mitch, Luke Wilson (2001's "Legally Blonde") has got the sweet, good guy role down pat, but remains unchallenged. Vince Vaughn (2001's "Domestic Disturbance") is wasted as Beanie. Will Ferrell (2001's "Zoolander") is the real star of the picture if there is one. As party animal Frank, not only is Ferrell completely uninhibited as an actor (he plays several scenes full-frontal), but he can make anything—even low-rent material such as this—at least somewhat enjoyable. Ellen Pompeo, who made such a splash in 2002's "Moonlight Mile," nicely plays Mitch's love interest, Nicole, but their relationship is underwritten. The rest of the talented cast, including Juliette Lewis (2002's "Enough"), Leah Remini (TV's "The King of Queens"), and Elisha Cuthbert (TV's "24"), show real potential with their characters, but it is wasted and utterly squandered.

How director Todd Phillips, who showed such promise with "Road Trip" three years ago, has taken such giant steps back as a filmmaker can only be attributed to a remarkably flawed and unfocused screenplay that was put into production long before it was filmable. Neither funny nor likable nor charming nor particularly entertaining, "Old School" is a big-screen comedic bust that flunks out in every department.
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman