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"C" Average

Slob comedy gives it the old college try



Todd Phillips
Luke Wilson, Will Farrell, Vince Vaughn

Laugh-out-loud moments have become such a scarce commodity in most comedies these days -- usually, filmgoers have to settle for a steady succession of smiles, with maybe a couple of chortles thrown in -- that it's almost tempting to recommend a whole movie on the basis of one such instance of pure unbridled seat-shaking. Old School offers such a moment: It involves a concrete block, a long rope, and a part of the male anatomy that should in no way be involved with a concrete block and a long rope. It's a wickedly funny bit in the best There's Something About Mary tradition, and it's just too bad that this otherwise lackluster picture didn't offer more sequences like this one.Not that it doesn't try. It's been a full quarter-century since National Lampoon's Animal House set the standard for a certain brand of anarchic, T&A-fueled "slob" comedy, thanks in no small part to the presence of John Belushi as the drunken, disheveled frat boy Bluto. Belushi was so potent a comic force that there was even talk of a possible Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination (reportedly, Belushi declined to be a presenter on the telecast after he failed to score the nod). Don't expect similar buzz for Will Farrell (like Belushi, a Saturday Night Live alumnus), but it must be said that this frequent screen irritant actually delivers a pretty funny performance in Old School.

He's cast as Frank, one third of a trio of 30somethings who end up starting their own fraternity in an effort to tap back into the party-hardy attitude of their youth. Frank is the "doltish one," and his doofus status is counterbalanced by Mitch (Luke Wilson), the "nice one," and Beanie (Vince Vaughn), the "swaggering one" (in movies like this, you don't play characters, you play types). Their days are filled with, well, their day jobs, but their nights are endless orgies of beer bongs, loud music (Snoop Dogg cameos as himself) and curvy college girls. But trouble rears its head in the form of Gordon Pritchard (Jeremy Piven), the university dean who will do whatever it takes to shut down this new frat.

In one reversal of the norm, Old School features more male than female nudity. Unfortunately for the women in the audience, the ample flesh on parade doesn't belong to the cute Wilson or the hunky Vaughn; instead, it's Farrell's bare bottom that eats up a good chunk of the running time. (Whenever Farrell's full moon filled the screen, the college-age kid seated next to me raised his arms over his eyes with the same frenzy as Dracula shielding himself from Van Helsing's dangling crucifix.) In another unexpected twist, the most irresponsible of the group turns out to be the most faithful of family men, a nice counterpoint to the newlyweds who try to work through immediate marital woes with all the minimal effort one usually reserves for changing a light bulb.

Beyond this, Old School is basically a formless mishmash of Animal House, Back to School, PCU and other like-minded works. And while the cast probably had a ball, the resultant performances are all over the place. Wilson is amiable and bland (his partners-in-crime, Vaughn and Farrell, hog all the good bits), while Piven makes a rather dull foil -- he's smug without being very venomous, and I missed the nastiness of John Vernon's Dean Wormer in Animal House when he hissed out lines like, "Put Neidermeyer on it; he's a sneaky little shit just like you" or "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son." Ellen Pompeo, the luminescent new light from Moonlight Mile, does what she can with the underwritten part of Mitch's potential sweetheart, though it's nice to see her in a fairly sizable role again, after she was relegated to about 60 seconds of screen time in Catch Me If You Can and about 30 seconds in Daredevil.

And fans of the out-there comedian Andy Dick will be interested to learn that he pops up in a minor role. Donning the old Emo Philips hairstyle, he plays a swishy guy who teaches a room full of women a class called "The Art of the Blowjob." Talk about your extracurricular activities...

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