KICKIN' IT OLD SCHOOL
As Frank the Tank (Will Ferrell) said to his wife at the end of a conversation after a funeral in which she asked for a divorce... "Good stuff." There's lots of good stuff in "Old School", which I saw this weekend with My Girl, The Rats, and My Film Geek Friend. We all laughed a lot and had a good time, but as is the case with most film comedies, most of the "good stuff" comes in the first two thirds of the movie. Overall, it's a pretty funny movie. I would say the funniest since "Rat Race". But, with a big brother like "Animal House" to look up to, "Old School" could have and should have been a lot better. It seemed like they could have been more playful with a bunch of the material, both on the page and on the set. In particular, I was disappointed by the gymnastics competition at the end. Will Ferrell's floor exercise was funny, but it seemed restrained and too short. Vince Vaughn hanging on the rings with a cigarette dangling from his lip was a funny visual from the trailer, but it didn't go beyond that. The scene built to the fat fraternity pledge completing a successful vault, but it was nothing. It wasn't a laugh and it wasn't satisfying. The entire sequence felt rushed. In theory, I don't think it's a bad idea to push the movie in the direction of a fraternity competition, but where is the climactic party scene? How could they not throw a bash in the dethroned dean's residence?
Ellen Pompeo is something special. She sparkled on the screen. She's adorable. But, why wasn't the relationship story worked into the main fraternity arc. It was like a B story that grazed but never quite intersected with the A story. And then she conveniently comes to him at the end, after he's decided to leave the frat life behind, and after she's discovered -- off screen! -- that Craig Kilborn is a prick. I could have told her that after watching one segment of his crappy late-night show. Another subplot which went nowhere fast was Luke Wilson sleeping with the high school girl who turns out to be the daughter of his boss. Where were the stakes in that story? His boss never found out about it, and when push came to shove, Luke stood up to him and told him what was what and where to go, but we never even saw him kowtow to his boss in the first place. No logic. No payoff. No punchline.
Having said all that, I thought there were a lot of strong laughs. Both the casting and the use of music were outstanding. The big party scene and the fraternity rush scene both contained a lot of fun energy and were paced well. The birthday party scene in which Will Ferrell shoots himself in the neck with the tranquilizer gun was hysterical. As was Will Ferrell streaking naked through the streets. His level of committment to comedy is astounding and I really enjoyed seeing him let loose on the big screen. Vince Vaughn was excellent in a part written extremely well for him. This was the best he's come off in a movie since "Swingers". Even as a straight man, Luke Wilson could have been funnier, but he's likable and he didn't hurt the movie. Jeremy Piven as the villian was so-so. His part wasn't written that funny and he didn't seem to find anything to really play with. Had the antagonist role been stronger, I think the main trio would have had to elevate their collective game to another level to defeat him and the plot would have been strengthened. All in all, though, I was pretty satisfied. I've learned to sufficiently lower my expectations in the third act of film comedies. Rarely does a silly comedy build to a third act punchline that is actually funnier than the setup. I laughed enough in the first two thirds of the thing to walk out of the theater thinking it was a funny movie that I would recommend. But, with a more sure-handed presence guiding the comedy, "Old School" could have been one for the ages.