"Role Models" thinks that crude and lewd language spouted by children at authority figures and authority figures at children is funny enough to withhold an entire feature-length running time. Writer-director David Wain (2007's "The Ten") and co-writers Paul Rudd, Ken Marino and Timothy Dowlinggee, did it really take four people to pen this script?are sorely mistaken. Though the film goes down with relative ease, it skates on thin ice throughout and barely even bothers to set a plot into motion. When the finale of your movie involves a twenty-minute fantasy battle between role-playing enthusiasts, it is safe to say you have lost your way.
When pessimistic energy drink representative Danny (Paul Rudd) is dumped by his fed-up girlfriend, attorney Beth (Elizabeth Banks), it pushes him over the edge. With partner Wheeler (Seann William Scott) acting as his unwitting accomplice, the two of them get into hot water after breaking about five different laws in the span of five minutes. In lieu of jail time, Beth persuades the judge to sentence Danny and Wheeler to 150 hours of community service, acting as Big Brothers at child mentoring program Sturdy Wings. While Danny tries to grin and bear it with his assigned charge, role-playing-obsessed outsider Augie Farks (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Wheeler has his hands full with foul-mouthed, disrespectful 10-year-old terror Ronnie Shields (Bobb'e J. Thompson).
Will Danny come to accept the quirky Augie and stick up for him when his own mom, Lynette (Kerri Kenney-Silver), continues to try to change him? Yes. Will Wheeler get through to Ronnie and come to discover why he so actively misbehaves? No. Ronnie is portrayed as having a caring mother, Karen (Nicole Randall Johnson), and no attempt is made by director David Wain to explore why Ronnie is the way he is. With a narrative that has the four of them carousing around, sparring before becoming friends and then, one assumes, going their separate ways once Danny's and Wheeler's community service hours are reached, "Role Models" feels lightweight even by the standards of a raunchy R-rated comedy. Attempts to bring heart to the film are mostly disingenuous. If there is a moral to be learned outside of the obviousaccept people for who they are and don't sweat the small stuffit is lost in a sea of montage sequences and mostly lazy humor.
Admittedly, the picture isn't a total wash. Jane Lynch (2008's "The Rocker
") is far and away the best thing about the film, earning all the biggest laughs in her deliciously offbeat performance as Gayle Sweeny, Sturdy Wings' ex-drug addict program director. Lynch brightens up her scenes so much that the viewer wishes the film were about her rather than Danny and Wheeler. Second to Lynch is Ken Jeong (2008's "Pinapple Express
"), who plays King Argotron, royalty within the role-playing fantasy world of Laire, as a man who gets off just a little too much on the men around him kissing the ground he walks upon.
As for the leads, Paul Rudd (2007's "Knocked Up
") is reliable in everything he stars in, while Seann William Scott (2007's "Mr. Woodcock
") is less abrasive than usual. Their Danny and Wheeler are supposed to be best friends, but they don't share enough time together to get a sense of this. It is also neglectful from a writing perspective that these two lose their jobs and must spend the next month or two doing community service with nary a mention of the financial problems two guys in their sticky situation would face in the real world. Who knew a lowly energy drink rep and his furry mascot made such big bucks. As Augie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is typecast in a part not very different from McLovin in 2007's "Superbad
," and young Bobb'e J. Thompson (2007's "Fred Claus
") slides vulgarities off his tongue as Ronnie as if it were second nature. Finally, the much-employed Elizabeth Banks (2008's "Zack and Miri Make a Porno
") is too good for the underwritten role of Danny's love interest, Beth.
"Role Models" moves along at a fair enough pace even if it isn't half as amusing as director David Wain would like to think. The third act, however, is interminable, with the KISS-inspired, face-painted central foursome taking the final Laire battle by storm and Danny finding time to serenade Beth. At the end, all would seem to be right with the world, even if the viewer is left pondering what will ultimately become of the obviously troubled Ronnie and what Danny and Wheeler are going to do career-wise now that their profession has been stripped from them. Of course, one isn't supposed to think about such things in a film that isn't much more than a stream of profanity-laced insults, candid sex talks with pre-teens, and raucous slaps to the face. "Role Models" could have, and should have, been a lot smarter than it is.