Skip School for Scoundrels
- Lynda Irons
- Forest Grove News-Times - Features
At some point, I turned off.
I had high hopes for 'School for Scoundrels.' Jon Heder, who made his mark with 'Napoleon Dynamite' and was charming in 'Benchwarmers,' needs to fire his agent for convincing him this movie was a good career move. As for Billy Bob Thornton, who was exceedingly good as 'Bad Santa,' he needs to rethink his shtick as an insulting curmudgeon as it is getting very old very quick.
On paper, 'School for Scoundrels' sounds fun and entertaining - how to help men who lack masculine fortitude get their grit. So we're introduced to our hero, Roger Waddell (Heder), a classic example of a man who bends so far over being apologetic that he nearly scrapes his chin on the ground. So far, so good. We know something of Roger: where he lives, where he works, and the fact he's desperately in love with his next-door neighbor. Nothing too original, but it's tolerable. After being dumped for the third time by a Big Brother program little brother, he's given a number of an instructor who can help him gain a backbone. But when Roger enters the classroom for the first time after initially meeting the abusive teacher's assistant, it's a quick downhill slide to unpleasantville. This comedy quickly turns unappealing, uninviting, and unfunny.
The mysterious teacher (Thornton) is known only as 'Doctor P,' and he capitalizes on the 'gotta-break-em-down-to-make-em-strong' archaic mentality. He's abusive, foul, and obnoxious to the poor saps in the class because he knows they'll take it and be grateful for it. However, those little exercises he has them do border on dangerous, harmful, and injurious. Nothing is funny about pushing Jell-O in a hospitalized lady's face. There's a sequence where the class is playing paintball - without any safety equipment - and the teacher's assistant captures three students. There's a growing realization that he's about to do more than splatter them with paintballs. It's an ugly scene.
It spirals downward fast, pandering to ignoble comedic fundamentals. There are only a few redemptive moments that rise above this quagmire and, darn it, Roger does mature and grow emotionally but only at the expense of this theater-goer's tolerance level. Heder's adequate, and you can see that given the right vehicles, he'll become a solid actor. Michael Clarke Duncan (the assistant), so excellent in 'The Green Mile,' is totally wasted and his character is creepy. Ben Stiller has a cameo. Why?
My recommendation - give this one a miss.