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Geeks in ‘Role Models’ get a fair shake

POSTED: December 31, 2008 5:00 a.m.
/Universal Pictures

Christopher Mintz-Plasse, from left, Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott and Bobb'e J. Thompson star in "Role Models."

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Oh, good. Another film about men who can’t grow up.

I’ve lost count of how many films during the past 10 years have built on the premise of late-20s or early-30s men who refuse to mature. I’m tempted to completely dismiss "Role Models" based only on the fact that it recycles that idea, but the truth is, it eventually does get beyond its tired premise to win us over. If only it had found the funny sooner.

Danny (Paul Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott) earn a living hawking a terrible sports drink to high school kids. Danny hates the job but Wheeler loves it because it lets him keep acting like he’s 18.

When Danny’s girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks) breaks up with him because of his downer attitude toward everything, he snaps in spectacular fashion. He assaults a security guard, hijacks a tow truck and wrecks the company truck. A judge sentences Danny and Wheeler to 150 hours of community service, which they will spend working for a Big Brother-type program.

Gayle (Jane Lynch), the leader of the program, verbally harasses them, and the kids they are paired with are nightmares. Danny’s "Little" Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), is a teenager so obsessed with a medieval role-playing group that he wears his costume at all times and has no friends in the real world. Wheeler’s kid, Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson), is a pre-teen who rebels and curses so much he could intimidate sailors.

The kids’ behavior, of course, masks some major problems at home, and predictably Danny and Wheeler begin to bond with the kids.

The movie doesn’t stumble upon the right tone until midway through. For the first half, most of the jokes come from Ronnie’s swearing or Gayle’s rambling nonsequiturs, both of which get old fast. Neither Danny nor Wheeler is likeable, and even worse, they aren’t very funny.

Once we begin to focus on the kids’ home life, the movie improves greatly. The kids bring the heart and most of the laughs to the film, especially Augie and his role-playing kingdom of geeks. Just as he did as McLovin in "Superbad," Mintz-Plasse shines as a painfully awkward yet determined nerd.

"Role Models" deserves credit for its treatment of misfits. Recent comedy hasn’t been very kind to the uncool, but here they find the humor in the world of hardcore medieval role-playing. And ultimately, the film treats that community with sympathy and respect. In fact, the payoff at the end of this movie is huge, mostly because of a number of outstanding supporting performances by the role-playing enthusiasts.

The final 30 minutes of the film are genuinely hilarious. If the film was as funny from beginning to end, I’d be raving about it. As is, it’s a good comedy that struggles to balance rude humor and heart.

Judd Apatow had nothing to do with the film, but the comedy, characters and story are all typical of his films.

Viewers who liked Apatow’s "Step Brothers" and "Drillbit Taylor" should enjoy "Role Models." Otherwise, you’re likely to feel it’s a waste of time.

Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.



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