School for Scoundrels: Unrated Edition (US - DVD R1)
Gabe asks Billy Bob for his tuition money back, but is polite about it...
Roger (Jon Heder), a New York City meter maid, is plagued by mouth-breath stealing anxiety attacks, and crushingly low self-esteem. In order to overcome his feelings of inadequacy, Roger enrols in a top-secret confidence-building class taught by the suavely underhanded Dr. P (Billy Bob Thorton). Dr. P uses unorthodox, often dangerous methods, but he guarantees results: employ his techniques and you will unleash your inner lion. Roger's confidence slowly increases and he makes his move on his long-time crush, Amanda. But Dr. P's competitive side is incurred, and he too makes a move on the object of Roger's affection.
I've just about given up on mainstream comedy, at least films that are advertised as comedies. Apparently my personal sense of humour just doesn't gel with that of the rest of the American public. When School for Scoundrels appeared in my mailbox unannounced I was not looking forward to the experience, and pushed it to the back of my review pile. Well here I am, at the back (now the middle), and there's a deed to be doin'.
School for Scoundrels isn't the all out chore I'd assumed it would be, but I'm still not about to call it a good movie. There are some moments, some characters, and some jokes that stick. The film is very well shot and has a decent soundtrack.
The chief constituent here keeping me from finding the film more than just mildly amusing is that I am super annoyed by every word that comes out of Jon Heder's mouth. It's like he's mouth breathing fingernails on a chalkboard from somewhere behind those magnificently bucked front teeth. I never saw Napoleon Dynamite, and thanks to its many fans that insist on quoting it to me all the time, I don't think I ever will, so I take no responsibility for this man's newfound fame.
The rest of the cast does their job, some of them admirably, but the movie might as well be called Pigeon Holed: A Tale of Typecasting because there is not a single original performance in the bunch. The filmmakers could've edited together a bunch of other films and effectively ended up with the same movie. Billy Bob Thorton plays a cool, monotone-voiced, foul-mouthed antagonist, Sarah Silverman plays a bitchy Jewish girl, Todd Louiso, Paul Scheer, and Jon Glaser play loveable and shy losers, David Cross is a tiny ball of fury with a nice guy facade, Ben Stiller is a loony that talks like Clint Eastwood, and Michael Clarke Duncan is a straight-faced, deep-voiced, giant black dude.
It is perhaps not unsurprising that this film is a semi-remake, and that it doesn't have anything original to add to the greater comedic lexicon, and it's unbelievably predictable. Factually, it's kind of a mix of the original film's ideas (so I gather from the synopsis) and my two favourite dark comedies of the last ten years, Fight Club and Rushmore. The Fight Club parallels run so deep that if I were quoted on the DVD's box I'd like my quote to read: ‘Like Fight Club, for people that don't like subtext...’, or something to that effect. The Rushmore parallels are narratively mostly relegated to the scenes of Roger and Mr. P wreaking childish revenge on one another, but visually I'm thinking that director Todd Phillips was watching the some Wes Anderson movies between this and Starsky and Hutch.
Of course the big difference here is that Fight Club and Rushmore are movies with something to say about the human condition and are just downright great motion pictures, whereas School for Scoundrels is just an excuse to put Bad Santa and Napoleon Dynamite on the big screen together. Everything is played safely by the numbers, there's a logical three-act structure, and even in this 'unrated' edition, the naughty language is kept to a minimum. Even fans of the new wave of 'embarrassment porn' (the kind of thing that makes Meet the Parents and American Idol fans so creepily happy) will be disappointed as Heder is only degraded for about a fourth of the film's run time.
Again, a brand new motion picture from Genius, and a fine looking DVD. Colours are as bright and details as sharp as the format will allow a film shot the old fashion way (on film that is). Grain and noise are minimal in even darker scenes. There's a hair of edge enhancement and edge blocking, which barely mar and otherwise pristine transfer.
Like the transfer, one might expect good things from the DVD's 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, and one would not be disappointed. Dialogue is always clear (unless coming out of Ben Stiller), and arranged appropriately. Though mostly rather sappy and all too modern for the film, the acquired music and score sound great, and is very well balanced. Sound effects are sparse and passive, as expected from such material, but there is a nice spacious ambience to the entire track.
Genius Products and the Weinstein Company are not the type to break with traditions, so this disc follows the lead of the production house's other new releases. First up is a rather lethargic commentary track with co-writer/director Todd Phillips and co-writer Scot Armstrong, who either resent doing the commentary, or are recording it at 5am on the Sunday after a rough night of partying. They manage to get some decent facts and figures out, and are generally informative, but do it with the fervour of two sleepy kittens.
Next is the film's alternate ending. This ending offers up a much more mainstream and ultimately even more predictable climax. Kudos to the filmmakers for going with a bigger, and darker showstopper (nut shots and all), even though the results are still along the lines of predictable, the scene is infinitely more interesting.
‘The Making-of You Didn't See on TV’ is, ironically enough, made for TV. It's not a real making-of; it’s just the usual elongated trailer. Thorton is so deadpan is hard to tell whether he's being intentionally funny or if he actually hates the film. The featurette is short enough that it won't kill you to watch it. The EPK is followed by a 'gag reel', which is mostly made up of the physical gags (i.e.: the nut shots) from the final film, not bloopers as one might expect. Things are finished off with a series of trailers, including one for Fan Boys, which looks a little too Road Trip and not enough Trekkies.
If average Hollywood comedy is your thing, and you aren't looking for a challenging Saturday night on the couch, you could do a lot worse than School for Scoundrels. I'm an utter snob when it comes to comedy (apparently) and even I laughed a few times. Hopefully Billy Bob Thorton won't make a habit out of making more predictable comedies. Hopefully people will realize that John Heder isn't acting, and that he really is an annoying, mouth-breathing loser. Hopefully the director of Hated: G.G. Allin and the Murder Junkies will decide not to typecast himself as a safe comedic filmmaker.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 13th February 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Director/Writer Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Alternate Ending, Bloopers, Making Of, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Heder, Jacinda Barrett, Matt Walsh, Horatio Sanz
Length: 107 minutes
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