|School for Scoundrels (2006)
Starring: Jon Heder, Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Clarke Duncan, Jacinda Barrett, Sarah Silverman, David Cross, Todd Luiso, Horatio Sanz, Matt Walsh
Director: Todd Phillips
The first thing wrong with “School for Scoundrels” is the title (yes, we know it’s a remake of a 1960 import, but go with us for a minute). In truth, it should be called “School for Pussies” – if they were scoundrels, the students wouldn’t need the guidance that they are seeking – but the studio clearly knew that title would never see the light of day on a marquee, so they stuck with a title that didn’t fit the movie one bit. The second thing wrong with the movie is that it’s not mean enough, forcing the black-comedy square peg into the light-hearted-romp round hole. Oh, and it’s pretty damn lazy too, a movie where nothing is questioned despite the millions of reasons to do so. The movie’s poster and trailers may toot that it’s “From the director of ‘Old School,’” but “From the director of ‘Starsky & Hutch’” would be a better indicator of what to expect here.
Jon Heder stars as Roger, a meek New York City meter maid who gets pushed around by everyone – he volunteers as a Big Brother, and even those kids don’t want him – but a friend gives him the number of a guy that can help him with his confidence issues. That man is Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton), who teaches a class on “taking what is rightfully yours.” His lessons are simple: lie, a lot, and how. Incredibly, the class strikes a chord in Roger, and before he knows it Amanda, the cute brunette down the hall that he crushes over (Jacinda Barrett) is going out on a date with him. What Roger doesn’t realize, though, is that the game has multiple levels to Dr. P, and in an attempt to keep Roger from getting too confident, Dr. P starts muscling in on his turf, stealing Amanda from him and wrecking every other aspect of his life as a bonus.
The premise instantly made me think of two other big-dick-contest movies, “Tin Men” and “Pushing Tin,” the latter starring Thornton, oddly enough. Those movies, however, were dramas with a healthy dash of humor (I refuse to use the word “dramedy” on general principle), and that is where “School for Scoundrels” loses its way. It’s as if the movie is afraid to embrace its inner rude boy, torn by the choice between darkness and light, as a Rush song once said. Had it gone darker, the movie likely (though not definitely) would have turned out funnier, a la “Election.” Instead, they employ groin shot after groin shot after groin shot and even a recurring anal rape thread (!), presumably in the hopes that you’ll overlook how utterly ridiculous half of the movie’s events really are. Would Amanda have really believed Roger to be capable of the things that he’s wrongfully accused of? Doubtful. Would his employers really have handled that one situation the way they did? Not on their lives, if their human resources department is anything like my wife’s former employer, which was so chicken-shit that they continued to employ a guy out of fear that he’d gun them all down if they fired him. It’s one of those movies where the premise hangs completely on the assumption that no one will ask any questions about what they’re seeing, and if they do, they won’t ask the right question. Say the right six words, and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. Luckily for them, and unluckily for us, that never happens.
It’s a shame about “School for Pussies” (come on, that actual title is worthless). There was some serious black comedy gold to be mined here, and they were too scared to look for it. If anything, the makers of this movie needed to be in the class that their lead actor was teaching. Maybe that way, they would have had the balls to make the movie that this deserved to be. As it is, this movie is Roger, and he’s not getting the girl. Tough break, loser.
The single-disc release of “School for Scoundrels” includes a full-length audio commentary with director Todd Philips and writer Scot Armstrong, an alternate ending, a short blooper reel and a 30-minute making-of featurette.