By Fred Topel | Image property of The Weinstein Company.
School for Scoundrels
Jon Heder may rehash Napoleon Dynamite forever but at least he’s starting to find the right vehicles for his persona. Paired with Billy Bob Thornton embracing his glorious A-hole from Bad Santa, he’s pushed to confront his limitations and expand his horizons.
School for Scoundrels Review
Roger (Heder) is outrageously pathetic, a meter maid with dorky shorts who even gets rejected by kids in the Big Brother program. He enrolls in a school taught by Dr. P (Thornton), who manipulates and beats his way to getting everything he wants in life. Things get personal when Dr. P decides to give Roger some extra challenges in his love life.
The class is a wonderful concept and they do milk it for a few opportunities of tough love, teaching lessons the hard way. The teachers viciously assert the mundane, from demands on the payment envelope to picking seat assignments. They break things and hurt people to make their points, and the thing is, they’re right.
These guys do need to assert themselves. They need some skills to get through life. Sure, maybe they shouldn’t go around bullying people like the bullies who got them down, but there is sort of a fight fire with fire mentality. Shots to the balls are well earned for the social implications they carry, and the one on the tennis court is a well timed surprise.
Seeing Roger come to life is a great twist on Heder’s loser act. It’s an evolution and may indicate that he can play other characters if the industry allows it. Once the battle of wits with Dr. P ensues, he has to rely on his absurd loser knowledge to undermine his skilled manipulations. They’re well matched generalities that keep the narrative flowing.
The film could be darker. Hitting people in the nuts is one thing, but nobody really has their lifestyles or livelihoods threatened. The only stakes are losing the girl of his dreams, and while that may be heartbreaking, it’s no worse than if he’d just remained a loser and never been able to approach her at all. To really put the comedy over the edge, Dr. P should have threatened a lot more. His job comes into play, but that was a sh*tty job anyway. Get him into some real trouble.
But School for Scoundrels is a solid comedy that won’t make you want to walk out, turn the channel or fall asleep on an airplane showing it. It’s got moments of inspired humor and the rest supports the set pieces with consistent smiles.