Old School (2003) DreamWorks Pictures
1 hr. 31 mins.
Starring: Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Jeremy Piven, Ellen Pompeo, Juliette Lewis, Leah Remini, Perrey Reeves
Directed by: Todd Phillips

Old School



Photo: Dreamworks Pictures

Well, the regurgitation of the gross-out comedy has once again graced the big screen in the form of writer-director Todd Phillips’s over-indulgent and hopelessly inane fraternity farce Old School. Phillips, the main force who previously gave us the feeble-minded Road Trip, hopes to have lightning strike twice with his unruly campus comedy that’s obviously echoing its raunchiness and outrageous humor from the legendary likes of the late seventies’ megahit National Lampoon’s Animal House. Whereas Animal House took audiences by surprise with its irreverent madness spurred by dopey but memorable hilarious characters and the lively antics that reflected the sense of rowdiness that made up their selected zany personalities, Old School is merely an exaggerated and thankless gimmick looking for a lame excuse to call attention to its dismal and dysfunctional ribaldry.

The cheap ploy to give this matriculating mess some distinction fails considerably. Hence, Old School is nothing but an unfunny and crude spin on the aforementioned Animal House—only this time we are dealing with the regressive trio of middle-aged misfits looking to find vitality through the glory days of beer bashes and curvy brainless bimbos in an effort to confront the collegiate chaos they want to replace with the uncertainty of the dreary “real world”. The premise begs for this built-in gag to register with the intentioned uproarious tilt that’s meant to seduce the giddy moviegoers. But we have already embraced the concept of a rollicking old fart looking to invade the undergraduate universe with the tailor-made fish-out-of-water scenario, most notably in Rodney Dangerfield’s side-splitting 1986 comedy Back to School. What may seem like a hysterical hoot in having three thirtysomething chuckleheads aimlessly jumping through hoops as aging fruitless frat boys definitely doesn’t leave much for the imagination. Annoyingly familiar and empty in its hedonistic heavy-handedness, Old School is as shrewdly shocking and vibrant as spending time in detention with a throbbing headache.

We are introduced to Mitch (Luke Wilson) who’s a disillusioned dunderhead that stumbles home and unexpectedly catches his cheating galpal Heidi (Juliette Lewis) in a rather embarrassing entanglement. With his relationship ruined, Mitch has no choice but to rent a house on the campus grounds of Harrison University. Feeling quite dejected, he goes into more of a funk when he realizes that his sworn childhood nemesis Dean Pritchard (Jeremy Piven) will use all his academic clout to bounce him off the Harrison University property. Pritchard still has sour grapes and holds nothing but healthy contempt for the wounded Mitch. And so the nostalgic bad karma begins to rear its ugly head!

Mitch’s seedy sidekick Beanie (Vince Vaughan), an unctuous stereo salesman, suggests a cockeyed idea in turning the place into a fraternity house. This way, Dean Pritchard will have no recourse for kicking them out of the residence if the venue is affiliated with the wacky goings-on of the Harrison U scene. And to solidify the plan, the guys ask their dimwit buddy Frank (Will Ferrell) to join them at their newly established fraternity in an effort to counterattack the ominous presence of Dean Pritchard. Frank, a recently married man who never quite abandoned the “party hearty” mentality of his former school days as the playful “Frank the Tank”, separates from his suffering wife and gladly partakes in the mayhem. Poor Frank’s spouse (Leah Remini from CBS-TV’s The King of Queens) is stuck with a childish hubby who insists on paying more attention to his cohorts and their scheming sessions more than he cares to recognize her feelings and the infancy of their rocky marriage to boot.

As one can imagine, the tug-of-war routine becomes very labored when the thrifty threesome struggle to remain one step ahead of the avenging and snide Pritchard who will do everything in his power to knock the wind out of the sail of the strangely popular frat house figureheads. Whether trying to force the hand of the student body president to shut down the pulsating pad or going through other extremes to curtail the supercilious three amigos, Pritchard will deliver the same kind of torture that apparently these carefree goofs bestowed on him ages ago! Hey pal, don’t you think it’s been a long time for you to harbor such resentment to a triumvirate of twits not worth your anger or stress? Get a life and let it go already, huh!

As an irritating and obscene vehicle that’s proud to promote its stilted style of entertainment, Old School is surprisingly conventional in its ability to latch on to the run-of-the-mill nuttiness that it spouts out in awkward droves. It’s the same old tired and uninspired round-up of easy-targeted hilarity: the token buffoonish obese guy, the nerdy doofus, eccentric homeless hangers-on, old geezers who expire during their pledge attempts, private genital-related references, meaningless marital breakdowns, innocuous pokes at nudity (particularly in the form of Ferrell flashing his doughboy-type body frame), lazy and breezy sex-and-booze vignettes, dumbfounding sight gags, toothless “boys-will-be-boys” rituals where vulgarity is a badge for non-conformist wryness, etc.

Phillips and co-writer Scot Armstrong are never imaginative or challenging enough to supply the audience with a convincing stimulation of fresh or solid situational foundation that may energize the warped mind in a livelier, unique way. Instead, they’re content on delivering a rehash of foolish plot devices that continuously dilute this type of sensationalistic genre. Plus, the actors involved are either known for their brand of perfunctory swagger (therefore negating any real surprises they bring to the table) or simply are not featured as much as they should be (mainly the cameo performers such as Juliette Lewis’s turn as Mitch’s clueless and horny girlfriend or Ellen Pompeo as Mitch’s replacement love interest) to make an impression one way or another. There are pointless scenes tossed in by restrictive appearances by rapper-actor Snoop Dogg tagged to sing a brief rap song just to ensure the inclusion of its urban hipness and the irksome comic-actor Andy Dick on hand to lend his name to what else…an inexplicable sequence that’s one of the movie’s standout idiotic and insulting bits to be demonstrated in head-scratching fashion.

Ferrell, who couldn’t wait to leave the late night rigors of his breakthrough fame on Saturday Night Live for a shot at movie stardom, toils endlessly as an effective boob tube-sketch performer trying to stretch his off-kilter magic in the confines of a tedious and tepid big screen comedy. When he’s front and center in SNL mode, Ferrell is infectious as far as his comedic chops are concerned. But when the indolent material doesn’t suit his capabilities, the comic is not impervious to criticism (witness his forgettable fare as in trivial ditties such as A Night at the Roxbury and Zoolander for instance). Still, Ferrell does somewhat rescue this frat-based fiasco on many occasions thanks to his willingness to oblige the otherwise arbitrary, stillborn smirky moments. Wilson is low-key and sympathetic but comes off as being out of sync with the madcap nonsense that he’s trapped in. And Vaughn is snappy and oozing with slickness that made him so memorable in Swingers. However, he brings this same kind of variation in the characterization of Beanie and quite frankly his trademark persona is in serious danger of overstaying its welcome. Piven has a blast with the uptightness of the wormy Dean Pritchard role but he won’t make anyone easily forget his counterparts in the form of Animal House’s Dean Wormer or Back to School’s Dean Martin for that matter.

The tiresome “anti-establishment-against-the-upper-lipped authority” theme has been played out more times than a medley of Beatles tunes on an oldies radio station. Yes, some will find the misguided slapstick behind Old School as an appetizing diversion that randomly feeds the rudimentary ruse behind the quirky grotesque trend that is the American teen comedy. The recess bell should have rung immediately into the first period of this frothy yet flat and insufferable scholastic satire.

Click here to comment on this review or post your own thoughts.

Frank Ochieng



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