SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS: DVD
Nerdy New York City parking meter reader Roger (Jon Heder), plagued by anxiety and low self-esteem, enrolls in a confidence-building class to win the girl of his dreams, his neighbour Amanda (Jacinda Barrett). The class is a confronting and expensive affair run by the idiosyncratic Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton), with unorthodox methods, but he expects results. Things get even uglier when Dr P moves in on Amanda with his own brand of sly romancing, threatening to destroy Roger's entire life. Desperate, Roger recruits his friends from Dr P's class to try and thwart the plan, hoping to show Amanda what he's made of.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
You never could trust even your favourite actors (old Hollywood stars aside, perhaps) to be a reliable guide to picking a quality movie [fill in your favourite examples of disappointing films starring good actors] and Billy Bob Thornton in School for Scoundrels proves it again. The problem is that even a decent comedic premise can be dashed on the rocks of realisation. Out go the anchors of angst and the power of plausibility, in come the overstatement and the absence of truth.
From plot to character, the film has been drained of any life juices it had, probably somewhere between pitch draft script and casting. The plastic creations the actors are made to inhabit echo with memories of other stock characters and that once promising premise is passed over for cheap pranks.
The tone of guffawing buffoonery never serves the film's essential need to touch us with our hero's humanity. Roger is a one dimensional device as are all the characters, even poor Jacinda Barrett's Australian Amanda. The plot can be implausible - which it is - but we at least have to invest in the characters, enough to care what happens and how they feel about what happens.
Writer/director Todd Phillips has a patchy track record, scoring with his feature debut, Road Trip, but misfiring with Old School. Here, he lets artifice overtake his best dramatic and comedic instincts.
Review by Louise Keller:
The title sounds better than the film in this rather lame, contrived comedy which never finds its wings. To me, the word 'Scoundrel' conjures up memories of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, the hilarious 1988 Frank Oz film that successfully paired Steve Martin and Michael Caine as two conmen who pit their talents against each other in the South of France. But School For Scoundrels is in a totally different classroom - and class. The wacky premise of a loser and a conman reversing roles could work. Especially with Jon Heder's nerdy loser Roger at odds with Billy Bob Thornton's hard-edged operator with the philosophy to tell lies, lies and more lies. But the script defies reality at all times, so there is little at stake, and we never believe the characters or their plight.
It starts with plenty of promise as we meet Roger, who reads self-help books and spends his whole life apologising. He can't even do his job serving parking tickets without having a panic attack. He is a little like Napoleon Dynamite, but less endearing. By contrast, Dr P. is a steamroller that squashes decency. 'There are two kinds of people,' he tells his class that has just been stung for $5,000 upfront fees. 'Those who run shit like me, and those who eat shit - like you.' His intimidating right-hand man, Michael Duncan Clarke's Lesher, keeps things in order while Jacinda Barrett's Australian grad student neighbour Amanda keeps Roger's heart beating. The pivot for the romance, Amanda is a frustrating character, with Barrett miscast. She smiles, laughs and has a dazed look and we never understand what she sees in Roger in the first place.
The plot gets silly, but the characters are caricatures, so there's little laughter as Roger becomes sure of himself and Dr P. becomes an unbelievable wimp. Ben Stiller's manic ex-student with the house-full of cats is the most believable character in the whole piece - and his role is unfortunately very small. Pity.
Published September 13, 2007
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SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS: DVD (M)
CAST: Billy Bob Thornton, John Heder, Jacinda Berrett, Michael Clarke Duncan, Sarah Silverman, Joanne Baron
PRODUCER: Daniel Goldberg, Geyer Kosinski, Todd Phillips
DIRECTOR: Todd Phillips
SCRIPT: Todd Phillips, Scot Armstrong
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Jonathan Brown
EDITOR: Leslie Jones, Dan Schalk
MUSIC: Christoph Beck
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Nelson Coates
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 2, 2006
SPECIAL FEATURES: .
DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment
DVD RELEASE: September 12, 2007
RIVERSIDE SNEAK PEEK PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 4 consecutive Tuesdays - March 10, 17, 24, 31, 2015 - at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.