School for Scoundrels is a slapstick comedy that relies on the physical comedy of the cast for most of the laughs. If there were supposed to be any other laughs outside the physical nature, they just didn’t work.
Jon Heder plays Roger, a meter maid with low self-esteem and a nervous fainting problem. Roger is in love with his Australian neighbor Amanda, played by Jacinda Barrett, who knows Roger is alive, but can’t talk to him due to the before mentioned fainting problem. After being turned away from his volunteering position and humiliated at work, a co-worker gives him the number for a confidence class. For a mere $5,000 Roger can learn how to be a lion, the king of the concrete jungle, from a conniving Dr. P, played by Billy Bob Thorton.
Dr. P and his scary sidekick Lesher teach the bunch of losers enrolled in the class the basic rule of male survival: lie, lie, and lie some more. With that in mind, the men are set loose to win over women, move out of their parent’s basement, and finally get drunk. They succeed in small steps, but Roger becomes the star of the class by winning a date with Amanda. However, Dr. P becomes Roger’s competition in what he says is a way to help Roger improve more, but the tactics Dr. P uses (including spray paining Amanda’s dog) put Roger more than out of the game. Roger enlists the help of Lonnie, an ex-star student who Dr. P had also targeted. Lonnie, played by Ben Stiller, is motivated by revenge on Lesher, and agrees to leave his 50 cats and go back to NYC for the big confrontation.
The movie’s cast is impressive; the supporting cast includes David Cross, Sarah Silverman, Horatio Sanz, Jon Glaser, and Todd Louiso. With this impressive supporting group of comedians, the movie should have been funnier than it was. Cross only appears in two scenes and is a sublime addition, but Silverman is terribly underused as Amanda’s harsh roommate. In the end, the movie’s postscripts try to tie up the weak ending—which most postscripts are most used for: funny movies with expected endings. The use of this tool to sum up the character’s lives was cute and informing (as were the postscripts in Animal House), but seemed a copout to that lack of sub-character development throughout the movie. If the director had relied more on what these actors are good at, slapstick physical comedy, the movie would have been far funnier than it is.
If you see it, you’ll laugh, but wish you laughed more.
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