By William Goss (reprinted from 10/06/2008 -- Fantastic Fest)
Remember Broken Lizard's Beerfest? Whatever you thought of that 2006 comedy, it's difficult to dispute how incredibly astute the filmmakers were with rattling genre expectations in just a single scene. See, the American team's greatest beer guzzler, "Landfill", has passed away under shady circumstances, and right when everyone's ready to throw in the towel, in walks Landfill's identical twin brother, who they knew nothing about but who happens to have been told everything about each of them. Better yet, he's more than willing to even adopt Landfill's name, in an effort to bypass that whole awkward 'getting-to-know-you' stage.
It's every end-of-second-act "what do we do now, coach?" dilemma from an inspirational sports movie mercifully condensed to a couple of rapid-fire beats, and even if the rest of the film otherwise adheres to said sports movie formula, it's nice knowing that audience and actors alike were not going through the paces entirely unaware of how clichéd the entire narrative was.
Director/co-writer David Wain similarly mocked genre expectations to amusing effect with Wet Hot American Summer, which makes it all the more a pity that his first big studio project, Role Models, doesn't come up with anything equivalent to That Scene, and an equal pity that it does adhere to the most conventional arc of "kids helping man-boys grow up" material, though Wain and company do muster up enough laughs to make the familiar go down with relative ease.
Danny (Paul Rudd) has been hawking energy drinks to schools for about a decade, often accompanied by considerably coarser mascot Wheeler (Seann William Scott), and generally worn out by the routine. However, when a impulsive marriage proposal to longtime girlfriend Beth (a barely there Elizabeth Banks) backfires, the two guys subsequently manage to have a very bad day -- one bad enough to merit a court-ordered "Big Brothers" program that pairs the guys with one foul-mouthed pre-teen (Bobb'e J. Thompson) and one geeky teenager (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, a.k.a. the actor eternally known as McLovin') That or spend a month spent in jail.
Familiar faces are in no short supply, with Wet Hot American Summer co-star A.D. Miles, along with Wain's "The State" co-horts Kerri Kenney-Silver, Joe Lo Truglio and Ken Marino (sharing a writing credit here with Wain and Rudd) popping up and generally earning some chuckles, not to mention the never-unwelcome appearances of Ken Jeong as the king of the live-action role playing realm that our above-mentioned geek calls home and Upright Citizens Brigade's Matt Walsh as his most sycophantic liege.
If any of you can say that you're honestly surprised by where these characters end up once the credits roll, then chances are you haven't seen Life with Mikey, and even if that's somehow not the case, it's all what the campers in Wet Hot might call "well-worn territory." (To boot, Mintz-Plasse's caped nerd takes 'gay' as a compliment in the same way that that film's caped nerd took 'douchebag' as a compliment.) In spite of this, there's a lasting sarcastic rapport between Rudd and Scott right from the get-go that makes the typical plot developments easier to stomach, and although the humor skews toward the juvenile, seeing Rudd react to accidental innuendos or the nasty way in which program director Jane Lynch suggestively handles a bagel-dog merits more laughs than you might expect. (On the other hand, trotting out a young African-American kid and having him drop f-bombs at every turn is all but a comedic dead end, though not for lack of trying on Thompson's part.)
Sure, we get every bit the expected second-act conflict and third-act reconciliation, but at least when it comes to the emotional climax, both protagonists are adorned in '80s-rock attire and one can't help but strike the other in the groin. It's that admittedly slight blend of the immature and the absurd that only a cast like this can (barely) pull off for a feature-length outing, and even though these guys have already proven themselves capable of something far more subversive, the fact that they can prevent the same-old-same-old from being entirely laughless is itself a consolation that shouldn't go ignored.