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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Old School (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Old School (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Dreamworks // Unrated // November 27, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted December 8, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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...the '70s! You had Animal House.

...the '80s! You had Porky's and Revenge of the Nerds. (And, um, a couple hundred thousand other flicks that were making the rounds on HBO, but let's just stick with those two f'r the sake of this argument.)

...the '90s! You had PCU, which no one really saw at first until it dug its heels into that same bi-hourly rotation on Comedy Central as This Is Spinal Tap and Up In Smoke.

...and that brings us to the aughts with this decade's frat-comedy of choice, Old School. Like those other pop culture touchstones I rattled off a couple carriage returns up, Old School isn't exactly some lush character piece with sterling, incisive insight into the human condition. No, it's booze, boobs, and probably some other awesome thing beginning with the letter "b", engineered to bang out a steady stream of laughs for an hour and a half straight. Old School's one of the most unrelentingly quotable comedies of the past few years -- at least, I'm still subjected to somewhere in the neighborhood of a third of the script on a semi-weekly basis -- and it made a star out of Will Ferrell, whose mix of nervous energy and drunken debauchery really makes the movie what it is.

So, the plot, as if it really matters: Mitch (Luke Wilson) is heading home early from some real estate conference to surprise his girlfriend (the thrice-damned Juliette Lewis), only...y'know, he's the one who's surprised when he strolls into a gang bang-in-progress. Dejected, Mitch slumps into the first place he can find, which happens to be practically on the campus of the local university. His pal Beanie (Vince Vaughn) -- who's made millions shilling home theater gear but feels stifled by the whole wife-and-2.5 kids routine -- uses Mitch's new pad to recapture some of his booze-swilling glory days. The instantly legendary party he throws has your rapper cameos, yeah, and it also brings out Frank the Tank (Will Ferrell), the slobberingly drunk Mr. Hyde to newlywed Frank's Dr. J.

Well, Beanie's scheme kinda works. Everyone involved has a helluva time. Mitch gets laid, although he doesn't remember it so much. (Nice cameo by a scantily clad Elisha Cuthbert there too.) Frank's stillborn stab at streaking gets him the boot out of his house, so he sets up shop with Mitch. Beanie had so much of a blast that this is the first of many throwdowns he's planning...but they land on the radar of stuffy Dean Pritchard (Jeremy Piven), who gobbles up their house for school use and gives them a week to ship out. As an excuse to sidestep loading up the U-Haul again and to keep the party going, Beanie puts together a half-assed frat with a few random old guys (including Blue -- who's my boy, incidentally -- clocking in somewhere around 90) and nine outcasts from the college. And you know yer usual plot points: the Dean wants to give the frat the boot, nice guy Mitch wants to win over his old high school crush (an intermittently cute Ellen Pompeo), but the frat he's really not all that interested in and Nicole's smarmy boyfriend (Craig Kilborn) keep getting in the way...

Okay, maybe the skeleton of the story is a paint-by-numbers frat-comedy, but even as dweeby and un-frat-tastic as I am, Old School is pretty damn hysterical. The casting is note-for-note perfect: Luke Wilson as the deliberately bland nice guy, Vince Vaughn as the frank, hyperconfident, unrelenting salesman type suffering through his not-quite-a-midlife crisis, and...especially...Will Ferrell in a balls-out, completely fearless performance as the schizophrenic boozehound. The three of 'em play off each other really well, which takes a movie that'd be funny in damn near anyone's hands and propels it in the general vicinity of a near-classic. The comedy leaps back and forth between broad and vulgar to kinda subtle and witty, netting a laugh just about every time it tries. Earmuffs. Solo streaking. Fellated vegetables. Acoustic Whitesnake. A fatal case of K-Y wrestling. Panty chat in the trust tree. Peckers and cinder blocks. Goofing around with a tranq gun poolside. Kidnapping pledges and apologetically lobbing out death threats in an A-Team van while Metallica's blasting.

High art it's not, but Old School is exactly the movie it sets out to be -- vulgar, ridiculous, smirkingly clever, and still a hell of a lot of fun even my fourth or fifth time through. Unfortunately, its release on HD DVD is kinda bland, and fans who've already picked up the current release might not find the modest upgrade worth shelling out another twenty or thirty bucks.

Video: This 1080p AVC encode looks like it was minted from the same master as the old DVD, and the end result is somewhere in the neighborhood of "okay, I guess". A bunch of the tighter close-ups look pretty slick -- crisp and nicely detailed -- but the image gets softer and considerably less defined the further the camera pulls back. Contrast tends to lean flat and kinda muddy, leaving everything looking kind of lifeless. This high-def release is a step up over the DVD, but Old School looks pretty mediocre for a flick that's really only a few years old, even for a modestly budgeted comedy. The smart money -- well, my money, at least -- sez that a newer transfer would've turned out quite a bit better.

Audio: The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 soundtrack is kinda bland too. The mix doesn't fiddle much with the surrounds, tossing a little action towards the rears in bits like the gurgle of water after Frank, um, takes one to the jugular, but it's pretty much your usual light ambiance and reinforcing of the music. The film's dialogue comes through fine, not that there's really all that much competition in the mix. Dynamic range is kinda cramped, and even the crunchy metal of "Master of Puppets" isn't backed by much in the way of bass. It's not unlistenable or anything, but the audio just lacks the clarity and full-bodied sound I'm used to getting out of these higher-bitrate tracks on HD DVD.

Dubs are tossed on in French and Spanish, alongside subtitles in English (traditional and SDH), French, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Extras: All of the extras from the 2003 DVD -- well, minus some photo galleries and production notes -- have been carried over to this high-def release. It's kind of a drab set of stuff, though.

The best of the bells and whistles is a reel of deleted and extended scenes that clocks in at 13 minutes. Mitch struggles with yer standard issue sassy black woman to snag an early ticket home to propose, there's a bit with Mitch meeting Dean Worme...I mean, Dean Pritchard at his stately home to plead his case, and...hey, a longer version of the scene with Beanie and the chick from that old anti-smoking PSA, along with a few other short bits. 'Salright. The 5 minute set of outtakes and bloopers isn't all that funny either, so much, but it's kind of interesting mostly because there's footage from several scenes that don't pop up anywhere else on this HD DVD -- Breckin Meyer turning up as a cop, Mark cussing out Nicole's tyke, and...some dumpy guy gagged-'n-tied and pelted with eggs...?

The audio commentary with writer/director Todd Phillips, Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, and Vince Vaughn is kind of a letdown. They crack a bunch of jokes, but not all that many of 'em really connect, and there's not much in the way of energy or enthusiasm to shove things forward. I found myself liking the commentary more and more as it went along, quoting from The Untouchables, lobbing out a story about Andy Dick's insistence on wearing a wig and then grousing about it at the premiere, pointing out nods to Fight Club, shooting one bit in the exact same diner in the exact same booth as Training Day, Luke Wilson's nicknames for his eyes, and jabs at poor haircut continuity. Lots of chatter about when they shot a scene. Identifying bit players. Lotsa "oh, I like this shot." It's okay, but if I were you (and, really, I am you, right?), I wouldn't go out of my way to give it a listen.

The spoof of Inside the Actor's Studio -- appropriately titled "Inside the Actor's Studio Spoof" (22 min.) -- is kinda lousy, with Todd Phillips and the cast floundering their way through a laughless, way-too-long rehash of the old SNL sketch. The lightweight making-of featurette (13 min.) is a waste of time, just your usual extended trailer-plus-interviews-plus-Godawful-voiceover promotional piece, and a few TV spots and a theatrical trailer rounds out the extras. That trailer is barely recognizable as high-def, but it's the only HD extra on here; everything else has been carried over from the DVD in standard definition.

Conclusion: I love the hell out of Old School, but this high-def release is kind of too modest a step up over the original DVD for me to recommend it all that enthusiastically.

The images scattered around this review are promotional stills and aren't meant to represent the way the movie looks in high definition.
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