This movie is about exactly what you expect. I can just hear the pitch that director/co-writer Todd Phillips gave the studio: “It’s like Animal House, only the guys are 30 years old, see? And they’re trying to relive their college days.” This is what is known as putting a fresh spin on threadbare material. Well, Prince Albert may stay fresh in the can, but there’s a distinct odor of mildew here.
I have no idea for whom this film was made, but I know it wasn’t me. What little joy there is to be found in Old School comes entirely from Vince Vaughan, who seems incapable of not being funny, but even his humor has that recycled feel to it. He’s essentially playing the same character he played in Made, where it worked much better for the simple reason that he had Jon Favreau to play off of. Without the innate camaraderie of Favreau, Vaughan’s character quickly becomes annoying. With Favreau on hand, you get the sense that there must be some redeeming feature to the character, since Favreau sticks with him, even while the viewer wonders why.
Unfortunately, the blandly attractive Luke Wilson is no Favreau and there’s no chemistry between him and Vaughan. In fact, Wilson is pretty much a stiff any way you look at it, and his presence only bogs the movie down — yet he’s the character we’re supposed to care about. When the world’s most boring person comes home unexpectedly to find his wife (Juliet Lewis in a thankless bit part) getting ready to have an orgy with a couple of blindfolded people who are stashed in the bathroom, it’s not hard to understand why. It’s not entirely Wilson’s fault. The script lays on his dullness with the fervor of Tammy Faye Bakker applying pancake makeup. His character basically exists to be embarrassed by his more colorful friends. And the script … well, a good barometer of the tone can be found in an alarming “gag” in the film’s first 10 minutes. Wilson hops into a taxi and complains to the driver that the seatbelt is broken and he wants to know what he should do. “You need to stop being such a faggot and relax,” the cabbie tells him. Uh, huh. Tell me any other minority group that you could use that “joke” on and get away with it. It’s pointlessly mean-spirited.
This may also be the world’s first product-placement screenplay. Sure, we’re all used to seeing this or that National Brand carefully positioned in the frame for a little free advertising (like I’m going to rush right out and buy a Macintosh computer just because a victim in Final Destination 2 is carrying one into his apartment minutes before his demise?). But Old School offers up something new: It actually incorporates all manner of product names into the screenplay. Liberally — and I mean very liberally — peppered throughout the movie are references to T.G.I. Fridays, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Skittles, Red Lobster, and so on. I don’t know if these companies actually had a hand in producing Old School, but I’m willing to bet that Phillips gets to eat free at a lot of places.
The gags tend to be pretty much what you anticipate — a fraternity initiation involving concrete blocks tied to the members’ … uh … members; wrestling topless girls in a wading pool filled with KY Jelly (Phillips is probably set for life with this product, too); and so on. The plot quickly turns into a kind of sub-Revenge of the Nerds scenario (now, that’s setting your standards high!), with our three heroes and their mismatched frat brothers having to prove themselves. Mostly what they prove is that the lowest common denominator is alive and kicking and playing at a theater near you.
I suppose if you’re a fan of one of the three stars — or want to see Ellen Pompeo, who was so good in Moonlight Mile, utterly wasted as the object of Wilson’s affections — there might be some reason to go see this. Myself, I’ll take a tip from Steely Dan: I’m never going back to this Old School, though it certainly makes me ever so anxious for Phillips’ threatened big-screen version of Starsky and Hutch.