Old School (2003) — A few beers short of a keg

“I was wondering if you wanted to get some ice cream or perhaps a meal of food?”

Justin’s rating: A 2.5 GPA out of a Nobody-Cares-What-Your-GPA-Is-After-You-Graduate

Justin’s review: Quick! Which ex-member of Saturday Night Live would you most like to see naked?

If you said pasty Will Ferrell, then medical science has no possible cure for your condition. My sympathies. But at least there’s a film for you!

Old School showed us back in 2003 why Will Ferrell wasn’t quite ready for a starring role. Although with his propensity towards de-robing and mooning the audience, I’m sure he’d fit in fine at any nature-fear-bachelor-based reality show. As Frank “the Tank,” Ferrell is part of a trinity of middle-aged men with fairly depressing lives. Frank has gotten married to a girl who’s nice, but not nice enough to let him run around naked in the streets all the time. Shame, that. Mitch (squinty Luke Wilson) is rediscovering bachelorhood after walking in on his girlfriend cheating on him. And Beanie (smoking Vince Vaughn) is just this rich family guy who both loves and hates the chains of matrimony.

When these three decide to start up a college frat house with no rules or standards or environmentally friendly policies, one would assume that laughter follows. Egads, how I wish that were true. Another wish I have involves repeatedly dunking Joan and Melissa Rivers into a vat of toxic yogurt (blueberry, why not) until they become violently lactose intolerant.

No, there are few chuckles to be found in this confusing and directionless flick. Oh sure, there’s a great setup! After all, most men like to look back to an era when they were free to party without major responsibility and subsided on a diet of all-you-can-eat lunches at Pizza Hut. It’s powerful trickery, that nostalgia, causing us to forget why we grew up in the first place. While Frank, Mitch, and Beanie enthusiastically create their own boys club and rule over it, the movie never quite convinces us that their lives were that awful to need such a release in the first place.

That’s just the first problem with this Ferrell posterior-laced film. What really irritates me is that director Todd Phillips (Road Trip) fails to give any purpose, emotion or — and I’d settle for this — tight editing to the movie. It’s really all over the map.

There are dozens of plot points that are picked up and dropped off at whim, leaving the audience in a story lurch as we try to figure out what we’re supposed to be feeling, thinking or rooting for. The non-fraternity parts of the guys’ lives, for instance, are largely left to our imagination. We get tantalizing hints of comedic possibilities, and then about 45 minutes go by before we’re reminded that they even have non-fraternity parts of their lives.

This isn’t to say that this alternative frat concept is a winner, either. With a couple exceptions, there is no life given to the frat; they’re literally a bunch of extras standing around to form a large crowd. No funny quotes here. No outrageous pranks. No Animal House– or PCU-style zaniness. It’s a frat created by a person who has no idea what college is even like, never mind a fraternity.

Late in the film when one character defends the frat by saying that they throw really cool parties, I can’t help but notice that they only showed a total of one party so far, and that was before they even became a frat. Are we supposed to just assume that they’re having fun and thrilling us between scene changes?

I got really angry at seeing such terrific comedic talent go to waste. Late night veteran Craig Kilborn plods around as a jerk. Jeremy “Droz” Piven drives a stake deep into my heart by being a fairly obnoxious (but mostly harmless) dean of students. Seann William Scott has one of the most awful mullets this side of Joe Dirt. The Daily Show’s Matt Walsh as one of the frat boys and is given ZERO lines to show us any comedy. It’s enough to drive a man to drink… cranberry juice! So, so tart.

If Old School were given a report card to take home to mommy, it would most likely comment “grossly obnoxious behavior” and “fails to live up to potential time and again.” Try better next semester!

Kyle’s rating: I don’t have to look forward, because this movie is me looking back (one hand clapping logic!)

Kyle’s review: As is often the case with my odd heroes and seemingly inappropriate favorite things, I find I must argue the merits of Old School before it gets lost to the cruel winds of “hey, that wasn’t nominated for an Oscar so it sucks!” modern times. It’s a fun job, and luckily I get to do it (thanks, Justin!).

Old School is a film, yes, but from my unique perspective it is a reminder that life goes on, and that change is always possible. See, I’m at a scared point in my life where I’m about to leave school (finally!) and face the real world, which despite nearly seven years of college I honestly don’t think I’m equipped to do. I’m wondering, like, “What friends will I still have?” “What will I do for fun?” “What if I want to wrestle in Jell-O? Will I have to pay for that opportunity outside of college? Noooooo!”

Old School shows me and the world that you’re never too old to create your own little universe of irresponsibility and occasional drunkenness, as long as you’re willing to fight for your right to party. Oh, and that good friends will always stick by you, even if you make poor relationship choices and have a bad haircut. It’ll make sense eventually, people.

No, I don’t think this is a perfect movie. Justin’s points are valid: The movie does ramble along, we think we’re going in one direction and then we go in another, and Jeremy Piven and Craig Kilborn aren’t allowed to fully form into the godly-funny characters we know they’re capable of being. But that’s all fine, because our rambling triumvirate of well-meaning good guys (Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, the incomparable Will Ferrell) set the tone with their mostly low-key, sometimes nude antics and let us know that the emphasis is on pleasant and happy togetherness versus end-of-the-world party madness/destruction.

Maybe I’m getting older and losing more and more hair by the minute, but I enjoyed the laid-back quality of Old School. We get slices of the characters lives, there is more emotion that you’d think (I want Ferrell to sing at my funeral!), and even the standard movie clichés (especially good girl being with bad guy and misjudging good guy because of it) gets a new spin because, well, pretty much only because Ellen Pompeo is really hot and apparently still has a Whitesnake jacket, and that’s cool!

So no, this isn’t Animal House or PCU party insanity on-screen. It’s just a group of guys who have been out of college for a long time who take their chances to have some good old-fashioned fun when it comes, and valiantly fight for their right (and the rights of others) to party. Maybe that makes Old School closer to real life, maybe it doesn’t. I do know that everyone in this movie could really use a comb, or at least a brush. Come on, people, and care about your appearance just a little!

PoolMan’s rating: “Incomparable”? I dunno Kyle, I can think of a few things I could compare Will Ferrell to…

PoolMan’s review: As I’ve said so many times before, I really love my brother. [Ed: I love you too, Chris!] He’s one of the most skilled people on earth in the fine art of making me laugh. He’s actually bigger than I am, and is therefore about the ONLY person capable of giving me a piggyback (and when you top two hundred pounds, you come to appreciate the odd piggyback ride as a rare treat). And on top of all that, he’s absolutely amazing at finding movies that he KNOWS I’d never watch unless he told me about them (Love Stinks, The Ladies Man, Kung Pow… the list goes on). Normally, I watch the movies he recommends with great results, but alas, he’s finally failed me.

Old School is, as the old saying goes, a few bricks short of a load. Or in this case, a few beers short of a keg. I settled down with my bro to watch this after (as has become customary) he spent weeks begging me to watch it with him. I had high hopes that I would find this as funny as the other gems he’s dug up for me, but I just didn’t get it. I mean, I got it, it’s not rocket science, this movie, but I didn’t get the appeal. He sat back and roared with laughter as usual (and that ALWAYS makes a movie better for me, you’ve gotta believe), but for once I couldn’t really join in.

Aimless and ambling, we watch the lives of men randomly crumble and soar. The opening of the movie, watching Frank’s wedding and Mitch’s separation from his orgy-happy wife, was by far the best part, and in a college frat movie, that just shouldn’t be. As a man preparing to be whisked away into the bonds of holy matrimony in just a few months myself, it was a hilarious feeling knowing what it’s like to consider a Saturday at Home Depot to be a big thing. (Love you, honey! Mwah!) So yes, the first few minutes were golden for me.

But when you get right down to it, the actual frat part of the movie was nowhere near as inspired. As soon as it starts dipping into the familiar territory of PCU or Animal House, it starts paling in comparison. Heck, Revenge of the Nerds was funnier than this, if for no other reason than the frat brothers were all given a chance to be funny or let their characteristics show through. As I see it, the pledges in Old School are funny for the reasons of being either A) fat, B) old, or C) Spanish. Other than that it’s a mixed crowd of extras just standing around, looking like they desperately want to say something, but can’t.

And man. Will Farrell. I just can’t handle this guy. Again, at his best when playing Frank with some subtlety (the wedding in particular), he gets more intolerable as the movie wears on. By the time he’s doing exactly what Adam Sandler does best (and I don’t like Adam Sandler much, either), it’s just an excuse for him to be loud and obnoxious, instead of funny. Luke Wilson continues his cavalcade of concerned looking, slightly slow characters. I found Vince Vaughn’s character the best of the frat part of the movie, but he’s playing the same obnoxious promoter he was in Swingers, albeit this time with a funny little boy.

Old School is what it is: a pale shadow of the great college flicks that precede it. Its plot is predictable to a fault (which is okay for a frat flick), and the characters just don’t do much for me (not so okay). Give it a shot if you’re really in the mood to watch Will Ferrell make an ass of himself for the billionth time on film, but otherwise, why bother? Or, you know, if you want to rent my brother, he can make it funnier for you, believe me.

Wait, wait! Come back! I can bargain!

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