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“Role Models” a smart, funny take on Inspirational Teen Movie

Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Paul Rudd bond over fake medieval warfare in "Role Models."

Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Paul Rudd bond over fake medieval warfare in"Role Models."

Of the many movies I’ve seen, “Role Models” holds an unusual honor: It’s the funniest movie I almost didn’t see. In fact, you might say it was the movie I’d decided I could almost not see at all. (Mull that over for a moment; it will make sense eventually.)

Allow me to explain. There’s a simple reason for this which involves just three words: Seann William Scott. You see, I gave SWS the benefit of the doubt after “American Pie,” when his nympho rants seemed original if completely unfunny. I did so again after “Road Trip.” Then “Dude, Where’s My Car?” came along and nearly convinced me to lobotomize myself with the nearest sharp object. I was no longer in a charitable mood. Even when SWS is not Stifler, he’s still Stifler.

Then “Role Models” came along, and I realized what SWS had been missing: Paul Rudd. Somehow Rudd (He of the Droll, Piercing Offhand Zinger) and Scott click onscreen in this occasionally shocking, unpredictably touching potty-mouthed comedy. It’s Rudd and Scott’s comic chemistry — coupled with sharp writing and a cast of top-talent actors — that makes “Role Models” something more than an ad for Boys and Girls Club of America.

How do these chaps know each other? Well, Rudd is Danny Donahue, a grumpy, discontent 30something who makes a living selling Minotaur energy drinks that, when consumed in great quantities, turn his urine green. He does all the talking (”don’t take drugs, kids; drink Minotaur”) while his horny, beer-chugging coworker Wheeler (SWS) dons a Minotaur costume. Danny hates everything, including cup sizes at Starbucks (his rant on “venti” versus “large” is classic), Wheeler loves everyone, and so they have nothing in common. Nothing, that is, until Danny runs the company truck up a school fountain and saddles them both with possible jail time. But instead Danny’s girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks, who, it seems, has accomplished a personal goal of being in every movie released in November), a lawyer, gets them 150 hours of community service at Sturdy Wings, a mentoring program run by ex-alcoholic/ex-cokehead Gayle Sweeney (Jane Lynch, perhaps the most underrated comic actress working today).

Here’s where “Role Models” takes flight. Enter Ronnie Shields (Bobb’e J. Thompson), a 10-year-old whose first order of business is accusing Wheeler of “grabbing my junk.” Just wait; the profanity gets better, and it’s shocking every time. Thompson’s a natural. McLovin (that would be Christopher Mintz-Plasse for those who lived under a rock in 2007) finds pain, intelligence and self-awareness in Augie Farks, a teen outcast obsessed with a medieval war game that’s part “Dungeons & Dragons,” part Medieval Times. These young actors accomplish something we don’t expect: They create characters as touching as they are surprising. It’s first-rate work from two relative newcomers, and it goes above and beyond what’s required of the standard Inspirational Teen Movie (ITM).

But back to Rudd and Scott. Rudd makes Danny into a kind of 21st-century Everyman who uses humor not to conceal his anger but to reveal it. He helped write the script, but I suspect that’s not why he has some of the best lines. It’s his delivery that makes every tidbit priceless. (Listen to him transform a misheard lyric in Kiss’ “Rock and Roll All Nite” into a screamingly funny commentary on his life.) Scott has toned down his manic energy nicely, and Wheeler — a sort of grown-up Stifler — makes a nice foil for Rudd’s droll misanthrope. I know not how or why, but it works.

Which, of course, could be said of “Role Models.” There’s a cookie-cutter plot, a see-it-from-miles-away ending, but this sharp little comedy just clicks. It almost makes me want to give SWS one last chance.


Grade: B+


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