Old School (R)
Far be it from me to issue cultural fatwas, but it seems the proverbial "we" does not require any more pop cultural celebrations of fratboy humor. By no means confined to actual fraternity members, the smug fratboy ethos manifests itself weekly on Comedy Central's The Man Show, and can be found almost anywhere testosterone ferments.
And so, to my complete dismay, Old School -- which chronicles the birth of a fraternity unshackled by traditional boundaries of age, class or college enrollment -- managed to make me snort and guffaw through most of its 91 minutes. It also helped me overlook the fact that I was surrounded by its target audience: 16- to 32-year-old male moviegoers who pepper themselves throughout the theater for fear that sitting next to one another might mean they're gay.
Old School opens as Mitch (Luke Wilson) catches his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) in an Internet-orchestrated threesome. He soon relocates to a large house near the university, where his erstwhile buddies, Frank (Will Ferrell) and Beanie (a maniacally manipulative Vince Vaughn) conscript him into a life of bacchanalian beastliness. Vaughn exploits his buddies' crib to launch an actual fraternity populated with goofy students and random community members united in their desire to escape the demon of routine through ritualistic buffoonery.
I don't know that there's an original laugh in Old School, but it hardly matters. When a hairy and slightly out of shape fuddy-duddy like Ferrell streaks down main street after a keg stand -- it's funny. When Blue, an 82-year-old pledge, wrestles two topless coeds in a pool of KY jelly -- it's funny. When an obese African-American collegian has to vault over a gymnastics horse -- or the fraternity will forever perish -- it's funny. And when Snoop Dogg and James Carville show up out of nowhere -- and for no real reason -- it's ... well, it's heart is in the right place.
And yes, Old School follows the Animal House formula by including a proverbial nitwit dean (Jeremy Piven) who is the forsworn enemy of party people everywhere; and this one's especially bitter since Vaughn, Ferrell and company used to torment him in their student days.
Trouble predictably ensues, as our heroes' fraternity is comprised largely of non-students. An absolutely inane sort of college quiz show triathlon ensues to test our heroes' school spirit, academic prowess and athletic fortitude. Of course, this is a film stitched together not by plot or the gravitas of its perfunctory love story, but by its energetic gags and lightheartedness.
What Old School is about -- besides beer, and the awkward hilarity caused by unwittingly bonking your boss's underage daughter -- is the perennial desire to eschew adulthood. The impossible struggle to shelter one's self from the inevitability of responsibility, and the hilarious notion that all it might take to usher in such a transformation is a mere change of address.
That this piece of testosterone power propaganda works at all is largely due to director Todd Phillips' knack for physical gags and the solid performances of the male leads. Ferrell and Vaughn manage to exploit an unselfconscious zealotry, for their mission, with fickle dispositions and inexplicable notions of propriety, and Wilson manages the straight man with intensity and charm.
We may not need anymore fratboy humor, but to mangle a verse of old time rock 'n' roll: You can't always get what you need, but in this film you just might get what you want.
-- John Dicker