Who would have guess in 1994 that the guy who directed Hated (you know, that documentary about GG Allin where he throws poop around and pees on people?) would go on to become a rock solid director of screwball comedies? Not that Hated is a bad film - in fact, it's excellent - but it doesn't really show the knack for comedic timing and gut-bustingly funny set pieces that Brooklyn-born filmmaker Todd Phillips would become known for only a few short years later.
2003's Old School begins when a man named Mitch Martin (Luke Wilson) returns home from a business trip to find his wife (Juliette Lewis) about to engage in a three-way with another couple. The marriage ends and Mitch soon finds himself scoring a great deal on a big old house that rests on the campus of the nearby university. When his friends, the begrudgingly married speaker store owner Bernard 'Beanie' Campbell (Vince Vaughn) and the recently married closeted party machine that is Frank 'The Tank' Ricard (Will Ferrell) find out about the new digs, they decide to throw him a massive housewarming party where Mitch winds up scoring with a foxy girl he believes to be a college student.
When it turns out that parties like this aren't allowed on college property, the guys find a loophole and decide to start a fraternity so that they can keep having as much fun as they want. They round up a few likeminded middle aged friends and recruit a few younger guys from the college population to give their group of legitimacy, and they're off and running. Things get complicated when it turns out that the girl Mitch slept with is his boss' daughter, however, especially when the girl he had a crush on in high school, Nicole (Ellen Pompeo), pops back into his life. Making things even harder for the guys is Dean Pritchard (Jeremy Priven), who wants these troublemakers out of his hair regardless of how low he may have to stoop to get rid of them.
First things first - Old School isn't exactly a highbrow comedy. It's crass, it's raunchy, it's not afraid to dabble in the ridiculous and it isn't particularly thought provoking. That said, it's also pretty damn funny. It's hard not to laugh when a drunken Frank 'The Tank' streaks solo through the town only to run into his wife and her friends out for a night of fun and it's tough to hold in the guffaws when Frank, stoned on animal tranquilizers, falls into the pool at the birthday party being held for Beanie's kid. These may not be the most witty of comedic set pieces, but the physical comedy on display here is brilliant in its own right and the stupidity of it all is completely infectious.
While Will Ferrell's character has many of the film's best and more memorable moments, Wilson and Vaughn definitely hold their own and an enjoyable snarky performance from the underrated Priven provides a truly hiss-worthy villain for us to root against. No one here turns in anything of Oscar caliber but it's not hard at all to believe these guys in their respective roles. The supporting cast is equally solid and all involved do a fine job with some rather ridiculous material.
Phillips keeps the laughs coming at a good pace, giving us just enough character development that we can care about these guys but never so much that the movie is unfunny for prolonged periods of time. The movie hits all the right notes at all the right times and does a great job of mixing in some memorable musical numbers (it's hard not to hear Whitesnake and think of Ferrell!) for good measure. The end result is one of the best frat boy comedies to come along since Animal House (the obvious source of comparison for a picture like this), and that's high praise indeed.
Old School debuts on Blu-ray in a decent anamorphic 1.85.1 1080p AVC encoded widescreen transfer that generally looks quite nice indeed. Detail is strong throughout playback and color reproduction is nice and natural without ever feeling overcooked or too saturated. Black levels stay strong and there aren't any obvious problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement. Compared to the previous HD-DVD release, there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of difference in terms of quality, but that transfer was quite strong. Skin tones look lifelike and natural while print damage is kept to a bare minimum. Some grain is noticeable in some scenes but it's natural looking and not really a problem at all. This isn't reference quality, but it's certainly a nice effort on Dreamworks' part.
Dreamworks gives Old School a very strong Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that does a very nice job of bringing the movie to life. There isn't a ton of surround activity here but the directional effects that do appear in the movie are handled well. Dialogue, which make up the bulk of the movie, is clean and concise and always easy to follow and the levels are well balanced throughout playback. There aren't any problems with hiss or distortion to complain about and the film's score is nice and punchy. Bass response is strong and generally, things sound pretty good even if, like the video quality, this mix doesn't compare with the best audio mixes out there on the format.
Dreamworks hasn't supplied any new supplements on this, the film's Blu-ray debut, but they have carried over everything you'd want from the previous HD-DVD and SD releases of the film - sadly, they're in presented here in standard definition, save for the film's theatrical trailer.
The extras start off with an amusing commentary track that comes courtesy of director/co-writer Todd Phillips and cast members Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, and Luke Wilson. There's a nice sense of humor to this track as the four guys talk about what it was like working together on the picture. They share a few amusing stories about some of the film's more notorious scenes and generally provide a fun, well natured discussion on the picture's path from an idea to a finished product. That said, there isn't much depth to the track and you won't come away from this commentary particularly enlightened by anything that's covered (though if you were expecting to be enlightened by the commentary on this film, your expectations are probably a little out of whack).
From there, check out the genuinely funny Inside The Actors Studio Spoof in which Will Ferrell does a fantastic job of impersonating James Lipton and interviewing himself and the rest of the key cast members in a fun, twenty-two minute parody of the long running show. Again, much like the commentary, this is played for laughs and offers no real insight into the creative process of the making of the film but it is funny. Less interesting is the thirteen minute Old School Orientation featurette that features some rather vacant talking head clips from the cast and crew who talk about what a great time they're having working on the film and why they enjoyed the project. While the more humorous supplements at least offer some laughs, this is played fairly straight though sadly, it doesn't offer much aside from promotional sounding clips and interview bits.
The From The Cutting Room Floor section offers up the same eight deleted scenes that were available on previous releases - Early Flight Home, Legal Advice, Beanie's True Colors, Planning Max's B-Day Party, Mitch Visits Dean Pritchard, Original Locker Room Sequence, House Inspection, and Frank's Soul Mate - and they're amusing enough that they're worth sifting through if you haven't seen them already. None of them are particularly long, in fact they total only thirteen minutes or so in length, but they're funny. The Outtakes And Bloopers section features five minutes of line flubs and miscellaneous deleted bits that don't offer up much aside from a couple of amusing moments.
Rounding out the extra features is the aforementioned theatrical trailer for the film, a trio of TV spots for the film, some animated menus and chapter selection.
A genuinely funny frat boy comedy, Old School has aged well, maybe not like a fine wine (more like a cheap malt liquor) but regardless, it's as hilarious now as it was five years ago. Dreamworks' Blu-ray release doesn't offer enough to make HD-DVD owners want to upgrade but the improvement in picture and audio quality are definitely noticeable and this release comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.