‘School for Scoundrels’ follows familiar comedy formula | TahoeDailyTribune.com

‘School for Scoundrels’ follows familiar comedy formula

Howie Nave
Tracy Bennett / The Weinstein Company / Roger (John Heder, right) enrolls in a class to build confidence to help win over the girl of his dreams (Jacinda Barrett), which becomes complicated when his teacher (Billy Bob Thorton) has the same agenda in "School for Scoundrels."

What do you do when you fumble the chance to communicate with the neighbor girl of your choice? How does a nerdy guy boost his confidence level to allow him to approach the opposite sex in general? And what does one do when your own friends are in the same predicament and not very successful, either, when it concerns hooking up? You need to take a course that teaches the art, if you will, on how to woo women. You need the “School for Scoundrels.”

Playing the nerd of choice in bad need of a confidence makeover is “Napoleon Dynamite’s” John Heder. Everything is going against this guy to begin with. For one thing, he has a sucky job as a New York meter maid, and is terrible at handling confrontation at work. He has no private life because he’s chronically challenged in the social graces. He has none. In short, Roger (Heder) is a complete loser here.

As a big fan of “Napoleon Dynamite” I couldn’t help but think this is exactly where Napoleon would have ended up after graduating from high school. Too much typecasting of a character? Oh, sure, but Jon Heder made such a mark as Napoleon that it’s difficult to not think of him in the same role, because essentially he’s continuing his nerd trend made popular with “Dynamite.” The difference here is that he doesn’t have the afro hair style, and surrounds himself with self-help books and videos, none of which seems to be working.

You know you’re an absolute loser when you’re rejected as a Big Brother from the kid who doesn’t want you to be one. Thankfully Roger’s friend, Ian (David Cross), knows of someone who can offer his expertise (at least in wooing women), because he also helped him out as well.

Enter Billy Bob Thornton. As the notorious Dr. P, he teaches the course (of course) for the socially inept, which include many of the exact same students Roger doesn’t want to be a part of. Dr. P promises to turn his class of losers into that species of man capable of lassoing one of the female species.

I expected Tony Cox to make a surprise appearance and give us “Bad Santa 2: Dating Out of Season.” Instead of Cox, though, Dr. P’s assistant is Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan), a swarmy character right out of Central Casting who could double as Igor’s brother for Halloween. It seems as if both Heder and Thornton have “borrowed” elements from their previous successful past characters and brought them along for “Scoundrel” because, hey, why mess with what worked for them in the past? Besides, the two of them have a chemistry that works that is pretty funny.

Poor Roger. He has been trying desperately to win the heart of Amanda (Jacinda Barrett) and, with the good doctor’s professional help, he hopes to. But what if the good doctor turns bad and he, too, wants to win over Amanda’s heart? Bad Santa! I mean, bad doctor (wrong movie).

As soon as things started leading in this direction, I immediately started thinking of another scoundrel movie that came to mind: “Dirty Rotten Scoundrel.” In that movie, Michael Caine and Steve Martin not only tried to outdo each other, but they were vying for the affections of the same girl. Although “School for Scoundrels” never quite reaches the same level of humor, it has a stronger supporting cast with more physical humor, and gets to play off the talents of Todd Louiso, Matt Walsh, Horatio Sanz, Sarah Silverman and Ben Stiller. Utilizing Stiller in small increments proves to be very effective in the laughter department. Same goes with Silverman, who plays Amanda’s roommate and is hysterical. Like Stiller, here Silverman is best in small doses and steals the scenes every time she is present. You find yourself looking forward to her presence when she gets an opportunity. She was also quite effective as the pain-in-the-rear antagonist to Jack Black in “School of Rock” a few years back.

Although a remake of the 1960 Robert Hamer film, “School of Scoundrels” departs drastically from that version with its crassness intact and slapstick style of comedy (which includes a brutal battle of paint ball). Director Todd Phillips (“Old School”) may follow that familiar formula of comedy, but at times I still found myself cracking up over the dumbest of scenes. And while John Heder may not quite be ready to play a leading man all by himself, he does play well with others, which is his saving grace, and the director knows that, probably because Phillips also co-produced and co-wrote the story. The movie won’t garner any Oscar nominations, but its off-the-wall humor is still pretty funny and entertaining to watch.

– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv comedy club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada, including the Sirius Radio Network every Sunday evening. He hosts “Howie’s Morning Rush” on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8.

Keepin’ it Reel

Now playing: “School for Scoundrels”

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Heder, Jacinda Barrett, Matt Walsh, Horatio Sanz, Todd Louiso, Michael Clarke Duncan, Paul Scheer, Jon Glaser, Leonard Earl Howze, Jim Parsons, Aziz Ansari, Remy K. Selma, Andrew Daly, Matt Besser, Joe Nunez, Jack Kehler, Armen Weitzman, Sarah Silverman, David Cross and Luis Guzmán

Directed by: Todd Phillips

Rated: PG-13 for language, crude and sexual content and some violence

Length: 97 minutes

Howie gives it: 4 out of 5 bagels

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