MasterChugs Theater: ‘Role Models’

We’re changing the format a little this month for MasterChugs Theater. It’s been a tradition to use March as the month in which we look over the truly horrible of the cinematic bombs, mainly to celebrate the birthdays of both my mom and my younger brother. Not so much this year. Instead, prepare for Awful April, a truly audacious lunar period. In the meantime, get ready for this guy’s review of Role Models. Rather than review Watchmen (which I’ll do next week), take a look at a movie that comes out on DVD this past Tuesday and was easily the funniest movie of 2008.

The misconception about guy comedies is that they’re all about boobs and male bonding and dudes making bongs out of Sprite cans. The best ones in recent years have possessed a sensitive side that’s almost as strong as films from the other side of the cinematic spectrum. (Which would be Nicholas Sparks dramas? Or Lifetime channel movies?)

Heroes of guy comedies might have multiple sexual conquests and celebrate insensitive behavior, but, in the end, romance, responsibility and a pursuit of monogamy usually prevails. The movie doesn’t work if the men in the audience don’t feel OK about going home to their girlfriends and wives when the final credits stop rolling. When it comes to comedy, the comedic timing this film has, coupled with its ability to bump up just against the edge of over-the-top, is what makes it a hit.

The film is centered on a pair of Minotaur Energy Drink salesmen, Danny and Wheeler (Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott). Their sales pitch is drink Minotaur and stay off drugs. This, of course, comes equipped with scenes of Danny and Wheeler smoking pot while drinking enough Minotaur to turn their piss green.

While Wheeler seems to love the job, Danny is a bit in the doldrums. Danny is a guy that tends to always see the negative side of life as he yells at a coffee house barista when she tells him venti is a large and he explains to her how “venti” is Italian and means “twenty” and not large. He caps off the conversation by saying to her, “Congratulations, you are now stupid in two languages.” When he is corrected by his then girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks), who points out a large coffee is 20 ounces, it doesn’t make things any better. Danny and his girlfriend ultimately break up, sending him into an emotional rage that earns both himself and Wheeler 150 hours in a big brother program for reasons I will allow you to wait and see for yourself.

Wheeler ends up earning the smart mouthed Ronnie while Danny plays mentor to Augie. Augie is a bit closed-off from most kids his age as his primary passion is a real life medieval role playing game called Laire, while Ronnie is anything but closed off and has a wild vocabulary to prove it: “Honky ass wanted a handful of my balls!” Annnnnd that’s just a preview.

Role Models is exuberantly staged and fitfully funny. The director, David Wain, had devious fun putting bad youth movies through the wringer in Wet Hot American Summer, and here he shows a corkscrew affection for the kind of studio comedy that’s far too by-the-numbers to be mistaken for reality. What makes Role Models a kick is that its heroes act as if they can’t quite believe their predicament is real either. Rudd delivers put-downs like a toxic avenger, while Scott, in his freshest star turn since American Pie, uses his disarming sweetness to make Wheeler the most nuttily likable of sleazebags.

Scott and Rudd are from two different movie making cliques, but they get along fine in a Bing Crosby/David Bowie kind of way. Elizabeth Banks as Danny’s girlfriend remains a welcome presence, even as she attempts to co-star in every comedy released in 2008. But some of the strongest comic performances are in the smaller roles, including the underrated Jane Lynch as the demagogic onetime addict and now founder of Sturdy Wings, who likes to talk a little too much about her past as a drug whore. And child actor Bobb’e J. Thompson, who plays Ronnie, is as funny as he appears to be in the trailers, with an added vulnerable side that gives the movie a welcome change of pace.

By the end, Role Models has given itself over almost entirely to Augie’s live action role playing, and the result is not only incredibly funny, but in a weird way a little inspiring. It’s best to give away as little about this big finish as possible, so let’s just say it combines the best parts of “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Braveheart.” To paraphrase a fictional great man: They may take our lives, but they will never take our boob jokes.