Film Review: Role Models

Two boyish mentors bond with their charges in a swift comedy that lampoons Big Brother programs and the world of live-action role-play.

What if adults told kids the truth for a change? The foul-mouthed, insulting, hilarious truth? Following the path trod by the irreverent forerunner Bad Santa, Role Models stars Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd as Wheeler and Danny, a pair of energy drink promoters. Under the guise of being role models, they hawk “Minotaur” as a substitute for drugs, lecturing schoolchildren to “Stay off Drugs! Drink Minotaur!” After one too many energy drinks and a run-in with a school statue, the boys (oops, men) must motivate children in another way: court-ordered mentoring at Sturdy Wings, a Big Brother program founded by an ex-drug addict. Jane Lynch excels in this minor role, executing some of the film’s most repeatable zingers.

Their “little brothers” are a duo of misfits: dorky, fantasy-loving Augie Farks (Christopher Mintz-Plasse from Superbad) and foul-mouthed Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson). Unlike the polite pretense of most adults, Danny readily shares his skepticism of Augie’s perennial cape-wearing and his live-action role-playing hobby. Similarly, Wheeler stoops to childish antics to get back at Ronnie, gleefully chugging his juice to get back at him for stealing his car. True to the film’s brutal honesty, the “secret” that their friendship is manufactured comes out quickly. The kids, similarly herded into the program, view their “bigs” with uncertainty and expect that, like all other adults in their lives, Wheeler and Danny will fail to understand them.

Wheeler and Danny’s immaturity and honesty work in their favor, bonding them to the boys and generating steady and varied laughter. Director David Wain, whose Wet Hot American Summer inspired a cultish following through its bizarre depiction of 1980s summer camp, does similar work here lampooning the world of live-action role-play, a costumed fantasy game with rules such as “If the plastic sword hits you in the leg and you do not have a protection spell, you must hop around on one foot.” While the character of smart-ass Ronnie has little trajectory, Augie the dork becomes cool not by changing himself, but through the other character’s validation of his world. The film’s set-piece involves the “littles” and “bigs” bonding together, in full KISS regalia, to restore Augie Fark’s honor in the role-play world. Unlike in the Apatow brand of comedies, the majority of the characters here are “cool,” and accept their denigration to the world of dorkdom with a shrug of humility and the view that “this is kind of fun.” The characters are not underdogs but must learn to work together.

For a movie like Role Models to truly succeed, it must consistently provoke shocked laughter—unexpected, soda-spurting kind of laughter. A well-timed slap, surprise nudity, and a sight gag involving a bagel dog deliver this essential type of response, but most of the film’s laughter comes from humorous appreciation of double entendres involving child molestation or the next step after “bromance.”

The film has its share of ribald moments that will be repeated in high-school corridors, but there are no characters or lines that will worm their way into the collective quote-stream—unlike in Ben Stiller’s Zoolander or Will Ferrell’s Anchorman. Despite this, Role Models benefits from taut screenwriting. Little touches like the Minotaur-themed energy drink truck returning to impress the role-players make the film more satisfying. One misstep is Danny, who goes from inexplicably unhappy to possibly happy. He impresses and wins back his girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks, in an underused role), but not the audience. Laughing along with Role Models requires some effort, but for fans of R-rated sexual humor, it will be an effort well-spent.