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Any Simpsons fan who remembers Maude Flanders can tell you that putting a death in a comedy is an iffy proposition, but the creators of Old School have thought of a surefire way to brighten a funeral: Position Will Ferrell graveside, warbling “Dust in the Wind.” In fact, Ferrell’s presence anywhere is usually enough to guarantee a laugh (though Zoolander, sadly, was DOA), and the beauty of Old School is that this time, he doesn’t need to be the film’s saving grace. Writer-director Todd Phillips packs the movie with plenty to amuse, from worthy co-stars Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn to details such as an impassioned wedding singer lacing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” with expletives. (“Every now and then I get a little bit terrified/Then I see the fucking look in your eyes!”) Ferrell, Wilson, and Vaughn play 30-something friends who have settled into suburban adulthood but collectively regress after Mitch (Wilson, proving that bland can be funny despite Jason Lee’s recent efforts) catches his live-in girlfriend in flagrante and moves out. Electronics king Beanie (Vaughn) and just-married Frank (Ferrell) insist on throwing Mitch a bash at his new digs, a house that’s considered part of a college campus. The next day, the school dean (Jeremy Piven), a former object of the trio’s youthful ridicule, declares that the property is for college-related residents only. Beanie, rationalizing that the party was a more accurate reflection of his and his buddies’ true selves, decides to start a fraternity and names an initially unwilling Mitch “Godfather.” The idea of otherwise responsible men tackling the issues facing those 10 years younger is played out brilliantly: Mitch unsuccessfully tries to separate his professional and fraternal duties as his co-workers desperately ask whether they can join in the latter. Beanie, courtesy of Vaughn’s skilled motor mouth, handles events such as a K-Y wrestling match with businesslike shrewdness. And Frank…well, one needs only a glimpse of him and his bandanna-wrapped head rocking out to Whitesnake in the Red Dragon—a beat-up Trans Am sitting in his newlywed’s driveway—to realize that his backslide wasn’t much of a trip. As pitch-perfect as Ferrell’s performance is, Old School’s script, by Phillips and fellow Road Trip veteran Scot Armstrong, is even more impressive. Unlike a slew of recent guys-will-be-guys flicks, it relies on the inherent goofiness of its cast rather than falling into gross-out territory—though Ferrell’s baring of his jiggly ass during a beer-induced streak comes close.

—Tricia Olszewski