I don’t know what it is, but I’ve been in the mood for comedies lately. I usually don’t watch these types of movies very often, so it’s definitely odd that five of my last eight movie reviews have been for comedies. At any rate, I watched School for Scoundrels last night, and here’s what I thought of it.
Jon Heder (of Napoleon Dynamite fame) stars as a likable loser named Roger who works as a meter maid in New York City. Roger is one of those really nice but socially inept guys who never seem to have anything going for them. He gets picked on by his co-workers, shot at and mugged by the people he gives parking tickets to, and even abandoned by his “little brother” in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters volunteer program. And of course there’s a girl in the picture (Amanda, played by Jacinda Barret) whom he has a huge crush on but can’t work up the nerve to ask out.
Roger’s supervisor at the volunteer program can’t help but notice that nothing is going Roger’s way, so he gives Roger a card with a number to call. It’s for a class run by a man named Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton), who claims that he can turn any loser into a “lion” — that is, someone that takes and takes instead of meekly waiting around for things to come to them. From the looks of the students in the class, Dr. P has his work cut out for him.
The film then gives some typical scenes that we’d expect to see at this point. The students are given assignments that are supposed to help them come out of their shells. For example, they’re supposed to “initiate confrontation” when their beepers go off, wear sunglasses at all times, and lie when they’re on dates. This leads to a few funny moments involving the other students, Dr. P, and his assistant Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan), but mostly this part was just predictable.
Roger ends up excelling in class, which means Dr. P gives him more challenging assignments. Eventually Dr. P starts competing with Roger for Amanda’s affections, and the movie turns into a messy duel of one-upsmanship between the two men.
My Reaction: Initially, I thought School for Scoundrels started out on a very promising note. I liked the idea of a secret school where doormats can go learn to assert themselves, and felt that this movie could turn into sort of a modern-day Revenge of the Nerds. But it never quite got there because of both script problems and the casting choices.
First of all, I thought the script was all over the place in terms of the comedy. Some of the jokes and sight-gags worked, but many of them were completely unoriginal, or mean-spirited, or just plain out there. For example, the Lesher rape “jokes” fell flat every single time, and Roger hitting Dr. P with the tennis balls every chance he got was just juvenile. Second, I thought the ending dragged on for too long. The movie might have been effective had they allowed Dr. P to have some redeeming qualities and if the gesture with the tickets was legitimate. But of course that’s not the way the filmmakers went, so the ending just felt all wrong to me.
And the performances… wow, did Billy Bob phone it in or what? He was so completely wooden in every scene that I could barely watch him. As for Heder: he’s wonderful as a lovable loser, but as soon as his character started changing and getting mean/assertive, he just turned into another jerk. I wasn’t rooting for him at all in the end, and wish that neither of the two guys ended up with Amanda.
Overall, I thought School for Scoundrels was just an average comedy. There were a few good lines, but not enough to warrant going out of your way to rent or buy it. I give the movie just 2 stars out of 5.