By Bennett Fuson
When I first saw the trailer for “Role Models,” the new Paul Rudd/Seann William Scott comedy about two energy-drink promoters who are sentenced to community service as youth mentors, I was beyond excited to see it on the big screen. Rudd, who has subtly taken the comedy world by storm with supporting rolls in “Anchorman” (as suave Brian Fantana), “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” (as slightly obsessive clerk David), “Knocked Up” (as brother-in-law Pete) and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (as burnt-out surfer Chuck), has long deserved a lead role. And costar Scott, best known as Stiffler from the “American Pie” franchise, hasn’t been able to connect to a role quite like his sexed-up claim to fame, even with such cinematic masterpieces as “Mr. Woodcock” and “Southland Tales.” (Insert audience laughter here.)
Unfortunately for both, “Role Models” isn’t quite what either star needs to begin his career as a leading man. Not that the effort wasn’t attempted; “Role Models” takes from every successful comedic element of recent cinema (raunchy language, physical humor, subtly-racist/homophobic banter and geek culture, to name a few). But what “Role Models” lacks is a connecting story and characters to feel for, elements that other recent comedies have successfuly implemented (or at least tried).
Rudd plays Danny, a pessimistic spokesman for Minotaur Energy Drink who fears he is wasting his life. Scott plays Wheeler, the company’s costumed mascot who is “living the dream!” When Danny crashes the company’s promotional truck (decked out in bull-horns and flame decals) into a school statue after a run-in with the cops, he and Wheeler are given a choice; serve 30 days in prison or 150 hours of community service.
The two men choose the latter and are placed under the supervision of Sturdy Wings, a “Big Brother, Big Sister”-esque program run by Gayle (Jane Lynch, the disturbingly personal manager in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”). The two “bigs” are paired with their “littles:” Danny to Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka McLovin) and Wheeler to Ronnie (up-and-coming Bobb’e J. Thompson). Both pairs struggle to connect with each other but eventually find that they have more in common with each other than they originally thought.
What sets up “Role Models” for failure is its lack of originality. Rudd, whose characters are best known for self-depreciating attitudes, does nothing to differentiate Danny from his other roles. Scott, meanwhile, cannot escape his Stiffler typecast; it’s not incorrect to say that Scott probably can’t play a character with a maturity level higher than a 14-year-old kid.
Mintz-Plasses, who so effortlessly brought back the awkwardly-cool popularity of being a geek in “Superbad,” also suffers from typecasting: his Augie is obsessed with a fantasy world akin to “Lord of the Rings.” Thompson, though, provides promise as scene-stealing Ronnie, although his salty language is sure to offend the faint-of-heart and put parental advisory groups up in arms. (12-year-old Thompson uses language that would offend grown men).
“Role Models” will most likely do well at the box office, especially with the teenage crowd. But for the $10 movie ticket, don’t be surprised to feel a sense of emptiness or maybe even deja vu after watching the movie, because yes, you have seen that humor somewhere else before.