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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The last two years have been incredibly fertile for comedy, and the hot streak continues with Role Models, another raunchy, R-rated laffer (as Variety calls amusingly them). While in no way affiliated with Judd Apatow - and when was the last time you heard that? about a big screen comedy - the film nevertheless has a distinctly Apatow-ian sensibility, as well as a few of his repertory players. Most importantly, it has the same kind of high laugh-per-minute ratio.

Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott play Danny and Wheeler, two guys whose job is to go into public schools, warn kids against the dangers of drugs, and encourage them to buy a specific brand of energy drink instead. Wheeler is a loose kind of guy, always ready for a party, always looking for a hot girl to hook up with. Danny, on the other hand, is like Eeyore's more pessimistic brother. He's got a short fuse about even the most mundane things (like the use of the expression "ASAP"). For this reason, Danny has just been dumped by his attorney girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks) - and the dumping has only served to sour his already bad mood.

When the boys are arrested for a crime I won't even try to describe here, Beth manages to help them avoid jail time. Instead of the slammer, they are assigned to do community service in a Big Brothers-type program called "Sturdy Wings." The program's founder/director is Jean Sweeny (the hilarious Jane Lynch), who likes to spend a little too much time talking about her own troubled past. She matches Wheeler with a foul-mouthed, boobie-obsessed kid named Ronnie (Bobb'e J. Thompson), while Danny gets partnered with Augie (Superbad's Christopher Mintz-Plasse), an alienated teen who finds acceptance in a live-action role-playing group.

In a standard comedy, the outcome would be predictable: the experience of helping these boys would turn Danny and Wheeler into better men. While that's sort-of true, it's also sort-of not. Perhaps what I love most about Role Models - and what made it so damn funny for me - is that the film tries to turn the cliché on its ear. For one thing, Ronnie and Augie are genuinely troubled kids; one is prematurely interested in sex, while the other comes from a family where his personality is roundly rejected. I know a guy who used to say, "There are no bad kids, just bad parents." The movie doesn't shy away from the fact that, particularly in Augie's case, that is certainly true.

For another, the plot avoids a big heartwarming moment. Yes, Danny and Augie bond, but does Danny really change, or does he just find a kindred spirit in this disillusioned kid? Has Wheeler really toned his act down or does he just bond with a 10 year-old because he's finally found someone who shares his same mentality? I happen to think it's the latter in both cases. People who don't quite get the not-as-warm-and-fuzzy-as-you-think-it-is ending may disagree. Part of the subversiveness of the comedy is that it makes you think you're seeing the expected, when really it's thumbing its nose at your expectations. Yes, everybody is happier at the end, but are they really better? Maybe, maybe not.

The jokes in the movie are often unexpected (like a hilarious running bit about the band KISS), and the interactions between Rudd, Scott, and their younger co-stars is endlessly amusing. Role Models reminds me of the comedies I grew up on: Caddyshack, Animal House, The Jerk, etc. Those films always had down-trodden characters rising up against the "system" (whatever it may be) and triumphing by staying true to their own rebellious selves. Danny and Wheeler do pretty much the same thing. One has anger issues, the other's a horndog, and that is exactly what two troubled boys are in desperate need of.

( 1/2 out of four)

Role Models is rated R for crude and sexual content, strong language and nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.

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