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Describing the plotline of Role Models doesn’t do it any favors in terms of selling the thing. On its surface and at its core, the film’s storyline is predictable, flimsy and contrived. As two ne’er-do-wells learn about responsibility after they are forced by the courts to spend 150 hours mentoring two troubled youths, Role Models could just as easily have been a Lifetime Movie of the Week as the profane and hilarious comedy that it actually is. What makes the movie succeed is how well the writers (star Paul Rudd, director David Wain and frequent Wain collaborator Ken Marino) work their own distinctive style into the story. Within the boundaries of this very mainstream plot the trio has crammed a lot of unique – and very funny – dialogue, sequences and characters.
For instance, almost every single character in the supporting cast has an obvious quirk or are generally bizarre in some kind of humorous way; there’s Augie’s macho, standing too close to everyone step father (Marino), or the BS obsessed former drug addict that runs the Sturdy Wings mentorship program (Jane Lynch). Augie’s entire subplot, set in the world of LARP (Live Action Role Play), provides the film with a wealth of eccentrics. This medieval fantasy setting also really helps set the film apart - and if you’ve ever seen the documentary Darkon (and if you haven’t, go rent that shit) you will know how accurate Role Models’ role playing society really is. Several regulars from past Wain projects (The State, Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten) take on these quirky characters with reckless abandon, providing an incentive for fans of his earlier, decidedly not mainstream work to head out to the theater as well as people just looking for something funny.
The two leads, portrayed by Paul Rudd and Seann “Stifler” William Scott, actually end up being two of the most ordinary characters in the bunch. They are also very much being Paul Rudd and Stifler, so be warned; if you don’t like these actors’ tried and true personas you probably won’t like the movie, seeing as how they dominate the screen time and capably carry the entire thing. While we’ve seen comedies that rely on vulgar youngsters many times before, the young actor who portrays the potty mouthed Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson) nonetheless steals the show. And that’s how it was intended – almost every single line written for him is hilariously profane, but rather than the gimmick feeling stale, Thompson rises to the occasion and keeps it from ever getting old. As Augie, Christopher Mintz-Plasse goes a long way in overcoming his inevitable typecasting as McLovin. His character here is definitely similar, but not nearly enough so that he comes off as repeating himself (Michael Cera, I’m looking at you). And his work is even more commendable in that while he does gets several of his own very funny moments, in much of the film - particularly scenes where the two leads and their young charges all interact together – he is given the difficult task of being the straight man of the group. His behavior and mannerisms are consistently funny, but he’s never really given snappy one-liners to spout like everyone else.
The packed preview audience I saw Role Models with seemed to really enjoy it - with several moments earning big and honest laughs – almost as if they weren’t expecting it to be nearly as good as it was. As mentioned before, the film is definitely clichéd in many ways, but this is easy to overlook because of the smaller quirks that exist within the framework; the mainstream nature of the plot comes off more like comfort food than something tired and worn out. Role Models is a film that successfully manages to use its commercial outer shell as a way to sneak a distinctive point of view and sense of humor into megaplexes all across the country.
- Jeff Latta