School for Scoundrels (2006) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language, crude and sexual content, and some violence
Running Time: 100 min.

Cast: Jon Heder, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacinda Barrett, Matt Walsh, Horatio Sanz, Todd Louiso, Michael Clarke Duncan, Ben Stiller, Sarah Silverman, Luis Guzman
Director: Todd Phillips
Screenplay: Todd Phillips, Scot Armstrong (loosely based on the 1960 film School for Scoundrels or How to Win Without Actually Cheating!)
Review published November 23, 2006

Jon Heder (The Benchwarmers, Just Like Heaven) stars as Roger, a New York meter maid who is known for being shy, weak-willed, and thoroughly lacking in assertiveness.  Tired of being everyone's doormat, Roger enrolls in an underground class on how to take charge of his life and be the brave and confident man he wishes he could be.  However, the methods used by the class's instructor, Dr. P (Thornton, The Ice Harvest) , become very intrusive, particularly after it appears that he is going to steal the one thing he truly wants in this world, his next door neighbor, Amanda (Barrett, Poseidon).

Small pleasures are all School for Scoundrels amounts to, despite a capable cast and an interesting premise, somewhat reminiscent of Anger Management in its structure.  Unfortunately, despite a few snicker-worthy moments, the story never breaks out of its sitcom delivery to gel into a substantive whole, playing most of its laughs through interactions among the comedic supporting cast, while the main plot offers little but predictable developments and a ham-fisted delivery.

Ironically, what School for Scoundrels truly lacks is an edge, as it plays mostly within the realm of the safe and broad.  Perhaps if Todd Phillips, who made a couple of popular R-rated raunchy comedies in Old School and Road Trip, could have gone with a more acutely adult approach, there might have been the audacious behavior from Dr. P that the film sorely lacks.  All there is in terms of confrontation is a heated tennis match, a paint ball game, some rather distasteful rape references, and an airport bait and switch, but the behavior among the participants never rises up to the level of evil, out-and-out maliciousness.

There isn't much else to say about this forgettable misfire save to warn you that it's very hit-and-miss material that might please fans of the two leads.  Anyone expecting 100 minutes of hilarity will find it delivers slim rewards, going through formula motions and forced situations to try to squeeze out laughs too labored to work. 

They say that those that can't do, teach.  Not only does School for Scoundrels not "do" funny well, it probably couldn't teach how to be funny, either.  Perhaps Phillips should have learned more from a real film about scoundrels, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, only a PG-rated film, but one that is still gutsy enough to go for the jugular that this film flails about desperately to find.

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo