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SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Billy Bob Thorton, Jon Heder, Jacinda Barrett, Luis Guzman, David Cross, Horatio Sanz, Sarah Silverman, Michael Clarke Duncan, Ben Stiller
Director: Todd Phillips
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Dimension
Features: See Review
Length: 107 Minutes
Release Date: February 13, 2007

“I have a question. My wife says I’m a pushover, but what if deep down inside I’m really just a nice guy?”

“F*ck nice. That’s a bunch of dog sh*t.”

Film ***

If there’s one comedy that feels quite reminiscent of the classic screwball comedies of the 70s and 80s, School for Scoundrels is indeed that movie. Added to that quality, it’s also one of the most hilarious films of the past year. Director Todd Philips, whose past credits include Road Trip, Old School and Starsky and Hutch, has probably made his funniest film to date indeed.

And the pairing of Billy Bob Thorton and Jon Heder alone indicates a classic “odd couple” pairing that’s bound for inducing countless moments of gut-busting comedy. Thorton and Heder, though both are performing their trademark personas (Thorton in his priceless Bad Santa mode and Heder in an even wimpier mode of Napoleon Dynamite though the character this time is a lot different), both are game in this comedy face off in roles that no other actors could’ve executed better, though if made twenty years ago you could easily see Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd or Chevy Chase in similar roles (ahh, those were the days!).

The plot concerns Roger (Heder) an NYC meter maid who is a little more than challenged in the realm of confrontational behavior. After an embarrassing incident on the job and being let go for the third time as a Big Brother, Roger enthusiasm about life drops down to a monumental low. But then he gets word from a friend about a class that can help him in all the necessary areas.

So Roger, thinking he’s about to enter a self-help class of Tony Robbins proportions, has found himself in that kind of class…only without the Tony Robbins and more of a Bobby Knight in the teacher role. The teacher in question is Dr. P (Thorton) who teaches the class by first informing them that they are indeed losers and nothing more. Along with his even more intimidating assistant, Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan), Dr. P has the class engage in some extremely rigorous exercises to help them become more confrontational.

These exercises result in some of the funniest sequences in any recent movie. The first of which is an out of class assignment where the classmates, each given a beeper, are ordered to initiate a confrontation in public when their beeper goes off. I don’t want to even hint at what happens as a result of this, but you will be laughing insanely as a result.

The next assignment is an every-man-for-himself paintball shootout in the woods. Imagining the worst bunch of wimps handling a paintball gun for the first time is a funny alone, but what you’ll see on the screen is even more hilarious. The scene ends with a priceless sight gag, as Roger confronts the hulky Lesher, playing the predator of the woods.

But the plot thickens when Dr. P attempts to test Roger in an extreme competitive form. Upon learning that Roger’s real reason for taking the class is to impress a girl named Amanda (Jacinda Barrett), a lovely and beautiful neighbor in his apartment building, the doctor tries to up the game one step further by cozying up to Amanda by pretending to be someone else. But is he simply testing how far Roger is willing to go to win the woman of his dreams, or is Dr. P really trying to steal her away?

Though the final half of the movie takes a slightly predictable route and isn’t as razor sharp as the first half, which includes one scene of hilarity after another, School For Scoundrels is a huge laugh riot. And on multiple viewings, it becomes funnier to me at least. Both very clever and remarkably funny, this is a terrific example of the perfect screwball comedy, which is hard to pull off in such a flawless manner. Credit director Todd Phillips, his frequent screenwriting collaborator Scot Armstrong and a superbly game cast for making one of 2006’s best comedies.

Video ****

The anamorphic widescreen picture is presented is superbly excellent quality in this release from Dimension. Director Phillips makes terrific use of the widescreen lens even for this simple comedy, and the images are thoroughly clear and sharp as a blade. Colors are wonderfully rendered as well. We’re already off to a terrific start in 2007 with outstanding looking discs, and this release is already high on that list!

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix is also put to terrific use as this comedy includes many sequences of extreme physical comedy, as well as songs on the soundtrack by the likes of The White Stripes, Wolfmother and even the classic song “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers. Both the physical comedy scenes and the soundtrack offer superb moments of sound in the presentation. Dialogue delivery is amazingly clear as well.

Features ***

This Unrated Ballbuster Edition (is that a great label or what?) includes your basic level of extras, but they are certainly better than anything less. For starters, the Unrated version of the film definitely includes more profane humor that was included in the PG-13 theatrical release (the quote above is one of the newly added lines). Extras-wise, there is a commentary with director/co-writer Todd Phillips and co-writer Scot Armstrong, an alternate ending and gag reel, a half hour featurette cleverly titled “The Making-Of You Didn’t See On TV” and a Theatrical Trailer.

Summary:

School For Scoundrels is right up there with the likes of Dodgeball as one of the funniest screwball comedies of this decade. Despite my comments on the last half of the movie, it is THAT funny indeed! Billy Bob Thorton and Jon Heder are as perfect a comedic odd couple as you’ll find in a movie, and they will have you laughing till it really does hurt. What else would you expect in a DVD release dubbed the Unrated Ballbuster Edition?

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