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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Role Models (Blu-ray)
Role Models (Blu-ray)
Universal // R // March 10, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted March 12, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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"No, I like to rock n' roll all night and part of every day. I usually have errands. I can only rock from, like, one to three."

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probably wrong here. I mean, everyone dug Role Models. It racked up a 76% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, there are five glowing reviews scattered around here by other DVD Talk writers, and the forums are fat-packed with folks pointing to Role Models as one of the best comedies from the class of '08. I mean, it raids a bunch of the best talent from The State and the Apatow camps, tosses in a couple hundred F-bombs and at least a few titties, and the plot hinges on dweebs dolled up as Frodo whacking each other with foam-rubber swords for a half hour straight. I mean, Paul Rudd plus more of a KISS undercurrent than any flick this side of Detroit Rock City...? It's gotta be amazing, right? Well, yeah. Sometimes. Role Models is sporadically brilliant but generally keeps it pretty routine, and it would've been TBS-sitcom-grade if a different gaggle of actors had been stuck lugging it around on their shoulders.

So, the plot...! Danny (Paul Rudd) and Wheeler (Seann William Scott) zip around from one school to another in a decked-out monster truck to shill energy drinks to kids. Wheeler bounds around in a stuffy minotaur costume, chasing skirts and raising hell, while Danny's the overenergetic pitchman type who kinda hates his life. Oh, and he hates it that much more when in the space of a couple of hours, Danny's foxy lawyer girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) rejects his half-assed proposal and breaks the whole thing off, he bitterly sells a mess of pimply 14 year olds on how awesome drugs are, and he manages to mount the Minotaurmobile on top of an oversized bull statue. Turns out that sorta thing is kind of frowned upon, so Danny and Wheeler are saddled with 150 hours of community service or have to trot over to the pokey for a full month. It's kind of a toss-up once they meet the kids they're supposed to be mentoring at Sturdy Wings, a Big Brothers, Big Sisters knockoff founded by a coke fiend (Jane Lynch) who's awkwardly jockeying for power even when everyone's nodding and agreeing with her. Anyway, Sturdy Wings forks a hypervulgar, boobie-leerin', wannabe thug named Ronnie (Bobb'e J. Thompson, who I guess needs the "J." to distinguish him from that other Bobb'e Johnson) over Wheeler's way, and Danny is handed Augie (McLovinChristopher Mintz-Plasse), a hypergeeky outcast who waves around his cape and foam-rubber-'n-duct-tape sword even when he's not on the battlefield doing the whole LARP thing.

C'mon, you can connect the rest of the dots from there. Wheeler and Danny fumble with a couple of kids they can barely stomach the sight of even with a court order looming over 'em, everyone bonds and learns "The More You Know..."-grade valuable life lessons, they all squabble with the nutjob running Sturdy Wings, more fumbling romances, the threat of jailtime, a big, over-the-top finale... You know the drill, or at least you would if you waltzed in expecting a third act that's a Two Towers-style epic assault with legions of LARPers whacking each other with fake swords for, like, a half-hour straight, and that's not even getting into how KISS is injected into the whole mess.

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so Role Models does have sparks of brilliance like that, there's a small army of comedians with a hell of a knack for improv, and they lob out some pretty spectacular riffs like Danny naming his LARP character after an overadvertised sleeping pill or bitterly ranting about pretentious labels for coffee sizes. With a half-battalion of credited writers and such an enormous amount of talent on the payroll, it's kind of a drag just how weak the hit-to-miss ratio is for all these gags. They're not so bad that I'm stuck cringing and groaning for a hundred minutes and change straight, but too many are uninspired and yanked right off the Exactly What You'd Expect shelf. Not to play armchair editor or anything, but after digging through right at a full hour of deleted scenes on this Blu-ray disc, there's more than a little of a sense of "...really?" The best stuff in the flick wound up being tossed out the driver's side window, and I laughed more at what didn't make it into Role Models than the stuff that did. I'd give Role Models a nod for being funny enough, but it never bubbles up as anything more than okay. Gags like doodles of dicks and peripheral titty leering seem like microwaved leftovers from the Apatow crowd. If you're going to stick with one-note characters and a couple acts straight of paint-by-numbers plotting, at least take more chances with the comedy than "hey, that little black kid just said 'fuck' again!" Pretty much the entire third act is wall-to-wall genius, but trudging through so much of the bland stuff in between makes it rough going.

I really want to like Role Models, and I...kind of do, but it's not nearly as good as it ought to be. I'd chalk myself up as a fan of pretty much everyone who strolls in front of the camera here, and the cast really is the best thing Role Models has going for it. Too much of the comedy is as uninspired as its hopelessly generic plot, though, and like the similarly lackluster Zack and Miri Make a Porno, it seems like it's shamelessly trying to nick the same hypervulgar-but-sugary-sweet mix that's raked in so much cash for Judd Apatow but barely avoids tripping on its flopsweat instead. Role Models is okay enough to slink by with a "Recommended" nod, but this is pretty middle-of-the-road stuff.

Oh, and thanks to the fairy dust magic of seamless branching, this Blu-ray disc tacks on both the theatrical and unrated cuts of Role Models. The big, red unrated banner is just a marketing gimmick, tho', and there's nothing in that extra few minutes of footage that wouldn't have slunk by without an R-rating. Considering that director David Wain opted to record his commentary over the theatrical cut, it's probably a safe bet that's the one he'd just as soon you sit down to watch anyway.

Like Role Models itself, this Blu-ray disc kinda skirts by with an indifferent shrug. The 1.85:1 image leans a little soft and fuzzy, and even though it's clear at a glance that this is a shiny, newly-minted high-def disc, detail and clarity rarely rate much higher than mediocre. Colors tend to be dull and lifeless too. There's nothing glaringly wrong with the way Role Models turned out on Blu-ray, but it's below average for a day-and-date studio comedy.

For most of the flick, Role Models' 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio track doesn't veer that far away from a standard issue comedy mix: y'know, all the dialogue anchored front-and-center, the subwoofer really only kicking in to beef up the music, and really light atmosphere buzzing around in the surrounds. Sure, it's fine but forgettable for the most part, but this is a movie whose entire third act is nothing but a sprawling, epic battle...with foam-rubber swords wrapped in duct-tape, okay, but the sound design still chugs down a couple of ventis to get overcaffeinated and surprisingly aggressive once the action kicks in. The music sounds great across the board, from a not-a-Paul McCartney song to the booming strings of war to sunny ELO to thundering, wall-rattling KISS. Nothin' to complain about here.

Also piled on are lossy DTS dubs in Spanish and French. Subtitles are served up in English (SDH), Spanish, and French.

Neat. Everything's in high-def.
  • Deleted Scenes (50 min.; HD): Yup, this stack of deleted, alternate, and extended scenes really does clock in at almost a full hour, and although I didn't keep a running tally or anything, I'm pretty sure I laughed more tearing through all of this unused stuff than I did watching the movie itself. Some of what's on here...? Boob Class, Danny taking sharper jabs at Augie's folks, a more deranged intro to Ronnie's mom, a whole subplot with a chipmunked-out Rashida Jones, a much more fleshed out intro, and a running gag with a t-shirt gun. Keegan Michael Key barely crept into the final cut but really gets a chance to go balls-out here, and...wow. I know it's only March and everything, but I've gotta remember to add Key to my list of people to send Christmas cards. Really, a lot of this unused stuff is at least as good -- and frequently better -- than just about anything that made it into the final cut, and it's worth setting aside an hour to dig through all of it.

  • Bloopers (4 min.; HD): Fist-sized chunks of Role Models were improvised, and some of the lines that were so devastatingly hysterical that they cracked up the rest of the cast and made 'em break character are tossed on here.
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  • On the Set of Role Models (8 min.; HD): The title may make it sound like this is gonna be another lightweight, paint-by-numbers EPK for Comedy Central or something, but nope. "On the Set..." digs into the collaborative writing process, sifting through The State and Apatow stables to line up a cast who can field a flick with this kind of improvisational bent, and -- why not? -- nipple flicking.

  • Game On: Creating a Role Playing World (9 min.; HD): This featurette digs into the whole live action role playing thing, from the intense amount of research that went into it (there's even a LARP advisor on the payroll!), training for battle with a Bourne alum, the elaborate costuming, and...y'know, goofing around.

  • In Character and Off-Script (8 min.; HD): Martin Gary, Kuzzik, and Davith of Glencracken score a few more minutes each in front of the camera with this set of not-dropping-character improvised interviews, and they pile on tales of unrequited romance, Xanthian lore, and failed falconing.

  • Ye Olde Crest Maker (HD): 'Spretty much what it sounds like. Pick a shape, a color, a border, and a little icon -- with four choices a pop -- and save your creations or share 'em online. This is just a tech demo, really, and there are too few options to hammer out anything really creative, but...whatever.

  • U-Control: The picture-in-picture video churned out in this U-Control feature barely overlaps with any of the other extras on this disc, and there's a lot of material piled on in here too. Too many of the talking head bits are overly stiff and serious, but the sheer volume of unused improvs, outtakes, behind the scenes clips, and left-of-center riffs about a parade of singing telegrams or the cast groaning about their least favorite stale expressions keep it breezing along.
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  • BD Live: Wow! If you're feeling masochistic, you can download a few minutes of extra stuff that should've been on the disc in the first place.

  • Audio Commentary: Director-slash-co-writer David Wain's commentary runs over the theatrical cut of the movie only, and it's a pretty solid track, belting out a good bit of insight into what goes into making a low-budget, improv-heavy comedy without ever taking himself obnoxiously seriously. Highlights...? Running through how Role Models was reshaped from a straightforward drama to an R-rated comedy, Elizabeth Banks cramming two completely different characters into one, recycling a wig made for Charlize Theron, pointing out a couple of scenes that had to be improvised during the writers' strike, trying to do justice to a story that Wain admits is pretty formulaic, and everything you ever wanted to know about epic LARP battles but were afraid to ask. Worth a listen.

The Final Word
I had pretty much the same reaction to Role Models as I did with Zack and Miri Make a Porno: I just sat around for a couple hours really wanting to laugh and...didn't so much. It's a flick with a sporadically brilliant sense of humor -- try and watch it with a frothing-at-the-mouth KISS fan if you have one on speed dial -- but too many of the gags are routine and obvious, and Role Models coasts more than it really ought to on the charms of its cast. Still, everyone, everywhere else really dug the movie, so if you want to shrug me off as bitter and cynical, I won't be offended. Promise. Role Models kept me cracking up just enough for me to recommend it, but if you only have time to tear into one kinda-sorta-recent comedy, I'd give Sex Drive the nod instead.
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