While Judd Apatow has been building an unstoppable empire of hilarity over the last few years, David Wain and his pals have quietly assembled their own insular but dedicated cult of comedy. Shows like “Stella” and “Reno 911!” and movies like Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten have put Wain in regular contact with a stable of fine comedic performers. So far, though, mass appeal has eluded Wain and his chuckle pals.
Role Models, the latest writing/directing effort by Wain, is a rather blatant attempt to crack the mainstream. That might come as something of a disappointment for fans of Wain’s edgier efforts (like The Ten, for example). While the straightforward buddy comedy of Role Models is unlikely to garner the same rabid (and deserved) fanbase as the straight-faced teen sex parody Wet Hot American Summer, the film is packed with enough big laughs to amuse a wide range of audience members.
Paul Rudd (a longtime Wain compadre who also contributes to the script) and Seann William Scott (still living off his American Pie fame and deserving better roles) star as Danny and Wheeler. Danny is an uptight cynic who hates his job lecturing middle school kids on the dangers of drugs while peddling a hyper-caffienated energy drink named Minotaur. (“Taste the Beast!”) Coworker Wheeler is (no big stretch for Scott) an easygoing horndog, happy to dress up in a giant foam minotaur costume and humiliate himself for minimum wage. When his seven-years-and-holding girlfriend (the suddenly ubiquitous Elizabeth Banks) dumps his unhappy ass, Danny gets amped on energy drinks and goes ballistic. Arrested for assaulting a police officer and driving their minotaur-shaped monster truck into a large piece of statuary, Danny and Wheeler find themselves with a choice: Go to jail for 30 days or spend 120 hours mentoring disadvantaged children.
Against their better judgment, they opt for the second. That sends them to Sturdy Wings, a Big Brothers-type program led by enthusiastic nutcase Gayle Sweeney (Jane Lynch, another Wain collaborator). Naturally, the boys are assigned the two most troubled kids in the program. Wheeler is brothered up with foul-mouthed little troublemaker Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson from “Human Giant”). Danny, meanwhile, is stuck with dorktacular Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, previously immortalized as McLovin in Superbad). As expected, their early interactions are disastrous; but our juvenile adults soon bond with their young charges. Wheeler teaches Ronnie the fine art of booby appreciation, while Danny sacrifices his dignity to participate in some good, old-fashioned LARPing (that’s Live-Action Role Playing for those of you with girlfriends).
The standard wise-kid-melts-the-heart-of-a-cynical-adult plot is tempered by loads of crude humor, the occasional spot-on ad lib and some unexpected thematic elements. The LARPing subplot is actually handled with some sympathy, and a running joke about KISS is well worth the effort. (Scott’s explanation of the subtle sexual innuendo present in KISS’ “Love Gun” is a definite highlight.)
Role Models isn’t a clever film. The script sticks to its high concept plot like glue, barely giving its main characters room to breathe and shortchanging most of its supporting players to boot. (Girlfriend Banks, for example, barely registers.) Still, it makes with the funny, generating far more laughs than you’d expect from--for example--Lynch’s salacious handling of a bagel dog. Sure, the people who formed legendary L.A. improv group The State (Wain, Kerri Kenney-Silver, Joe Lo Truglio and Ken Marino, all of whom are present here) are capable of generating much more subversive material. But it’s no crime to rest on your laurels, take a paycheck from a major studio and pump out a good wiener joke now and again.