The cover art of many DVDs feature blurbs from movie critics (or people like Larry King who I don't really considered to be movie critics). I typically avoid reading these because, A) I usually don't care, and B) I don't want my opinion accidentally influenced. While watching School for Scoundrels, I thought to myself, "This is like Bad Santa meets Napoleon Dynamite." After viewing the film, I noticed that front cover was emblazoned with a quote from Rolling Stone which states "Bad Santa meets Napoleon Dynamite". Wow! Was this remarkable synergy that we both thought this? No, this is the reaction that most anyone would have while watching this movie, and I can only assume that this was the intention of the people behind School for Scoundrels. But does the movie offer more than this?
In School for Scoundrels we meet Roger Waddell (Jon Heder), a shy, goofy guy who works as parking patrol (he's a meter maid) in New York City. A timid man, Roger finds himself constantly intimidated and pushed around by co-workers and even those he tries to ticket. He has a crush on his neighbor, Amanda (Jacinda Barrett), but he's afraid to approach her and he's usually scared off by Amanda's cranky roommate, Becky (Sarah Silverman). Roger's acquaintance Ian (David Cross), tells Roger of a man who can help him. Roger calls the phone number given to him by Ian and receives a mysterious set of instructions informing him to come to a local learning annex and to bring $5000.
Roger shows up at the appointed time and finds himself in a class administered by "Dr. P" (Billy Bob Thornton) and his muscle-man, Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan). Dr. P is an abrasive, insulting man, but he promises that he can make the class full of men, whom he refers to as losers, into confident and successful people. Roger is thrown by Dr. P's approach, but he's desperate for help and he decides to go along with it. Roger stumbles at first, but he begins to find his footing and he is able to assert himself at work and he even gets the courage to ask Amanda out on a date. But, while Dr. P enjoys success, he doesn't like for his students to get too cocky, and soon, Roger and Dr. P are locked in a battle of wills.
As you can see, School for Scoundrels is full of familiar and successful actors. The movie comes from director/co-writer Todd Phillips and co-writer Scot Armstrong who brought us the hits Road Trip, Old School, and Starsky & Hutch. So, given this pedigree, one would expect School for Scoundrels to be a satisfying film. But, the truth is that the moving is surprisingly flaccid and mediocre, as it yields some humorous moments, but certainly doesn't measure up to the previous work of anyone involved.
I was definitely disappointed by School for Scoundrels, but it's difficult to pinpoint exactly where the film goes wrong. The bottom line is that I was expecting a funny movie and it's only slightly humorous at best. Again, the "Bad Santa meets Napoleon Dynamite" idea may seem clichéd, but if you've seen those two films, that's what you're going to think of. Thornton plays a foul-mouthed lout who seems to hate everyone around him. While Heder isn't exactly channeling the Napoleon Dynamite character, he's playing an outsider who says some weird things and it's nearly impossible to not think about the cult film. At times, it feels as if Phillips is just setting Thornton and Heder loose in hopes that they will bring the comedy. There's nothing wrong with having confidence in your actors, but the script needed to be stronger here. Thornton and Heder are fine in their roles, but the story needed to be punched up.
I can't say that I've ever seen a movie with the exact same plot as School for Scoundrels, but very little of the movie felt original. How many times have we seen the loser who attempts to find his confidence in order to win the girl? This is saddled with a subplot which feels a lot like Old School, as the other men in Roger's class begin to find a renewed vigor in life. When Roger and Dr. P begin to compete, Dr. P frames Roger so that he will seem paranoid and delusional. Again, we've seen that before. At times, the movie feels like Better Off Dead or Can't Buy Me Love, but with adults instead of teenagers.
It may sound as if I greatly disliked School for Scoundrels, but that simply isn't the case. I just wanted more from it. I liked the characters and I found some scenes to be amusing, but overall the movie is weak and given the familiarity of the subject matter, there was rarely a moment when the story's course was in question.
School for Scoundrels goes back to school on DVD courtesy of Dimension Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks fine, as the picture is sharp and clear. There is virtually no grain to be had here and there are no defects from the source material. Colors are stable and look good, most notably reds and blues. The image has a nice depth and the framing of the image appears to be accurate. I noted some shimmering on the image in some exterior shots, but otherwise the transfer is good.
The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The dialogue primarily comes from the center channel and isn't accompanied by any hissing or distortion. The stereo effects are good, and the surround effects come to life during the street scenes and a scene in an airport terminal. A gunfight sequence offers some nice bass response.
This DVD contains a few extras. Director/co-writer Todd Phillips and co-writer Scot Armstrong provide an AUDIO COMMENTARY for the film. The pair are old friends and this is a very casual talk. They talk a lot about the writing of the film and how they had Thornton in mind the whole time. To this, they add more comments about casting and how important it is. "The Making of You Didn't See on TV" (19 minutes) was clearly made for TV. Anyway, it contains lots of clips from the movie, as well as comments from the cast and crew and some behind-the-scenes footage. And, because you demanded it, it shows Thornton and Heder conversing as two well-known characters. The DVD contains an ALTERNATE ENDING which has the same outcome as the ending in the finished film, but if much more subtle. I can only imagine that the test screening audiences demanding more testicle violence. The extras are rounded out by a GAG REEL (2 minutes) and the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
For the purposes of this review, the Unrated ("Ballbuster Edition") version of School for Scoundrels was viewed. I didn't see the PG-13 version, so I can't comment on specific additions, but I can say that this version runs some seven minutes longer. I didn't count the number or "F-bombs", but there were a few and I would have to assume that the comic-violent nature of the finale was somewhat longer.
If School for Scoundrels had been a film which came out of nowhere, featuring a first-time director and a cast of unknowns, then it may have been hailed as a minor success. But, given the fact that everyone in the film is very experienced, and that they have made some great comedies in the past, it's not unrealistic for us to ask for more of this movie. You shouldn't necessarily skip School, but take this one pass/fail.