City Paper is not for tourists
Maybe it’s the $8 haircut, or maybe it’s because it looks as if he’s got an extra row of teeth, but Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder looks the part of a guy with low self-esteem. And anyone who’s witnessed Billy Bob Thornton’s virtuoso foul mouthery in Bad Santa knows he was born to play domineering. School for Scoundrels, though, proves that great casting isn’t enough to carry a movie—toss perfect actors an imperfect script, and you’re going to get an audience mourning what might’ve been. Heder plays a meter maid named Roger who gets picked on at work and faints when he so much as sees his hot Australian neighbor Amanda (Jacinda Barrett). In a last-ditch effort to slough off his lameness, Roger hands $5,000 to Dr. P (Thornton), a mysterious instructor in the dark art of seducing women. Director Todd Phillips recreates the giddy idiocy of Old School’s climactic physical comedy decathlon as Roger and his classmates—including High Fidelity’s Todd Louiso and Saturday Night Live’s Horatio Sanz—get transformed into stallions. But School for Scoundrels, a remake of a 1960 British comedy, loses its spriteliness when its ragtag group of beta males stops shooting each other with paintball guns. Heder holds his own when the film morphs into a competition between Roger and Dr. P for Amanda’s affections. (Well, at least he successfully looks goofy while wearing tight, sky-blue tennis shorts.) Thornton, though, surprisingly comes up short. Sure, Dr. P is a conniving son of a bitch—he gets Roger fired and woos Amanda by pretending to be a surgeon, for starters. But compared to the actor’s roster of badasses—Willie in Bad Santa, the Bad News Bears’ Morris Buttermaker, Davy frickin’ Crockett in The Alamo—this man isn’t fit to call himself a scoundrel. The problem here is that Dr. P’s intellectual brand of revenge-taking reins in Thornton’s trademark id. In the absence of copious cussing and violence, writer-director Phillips’ decision to abandon the film’s winning pratfall-based brand of humor in favor of a cat-and-mouse game seems misguided. The lesson: When you have a perfect cast, keep it simple, stupid.