After discovering that his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) has been cheating on a grand scale, Mitch Martin (Luke Wilson) leaves his relationship and his home, and finds a new place to live on the fringe of a local college campus. At the behest of his friends Frank (Will Ferrell) and Beanie (Vince Vaughn), Mitch turns his house into an honorary fraternity, inviting young and old, student and non-student to enroll. The frat becomes a huge success, giving Mitch an opportunity to reconnect with his old self, Frank a chance to drink uncontrollably again, and Beanie an occasion to resurrect the seductive ways he perfected before his marriage and two kids made them irrelevant. This success also raises the ire of the college's Dean (Jeremy Piven), who long ago was the object of the gang's scorn, but now uses his power to stop the fraternity any way he can.
"Old School" (IMDb listing) is the type of bawdy, free-for-all "guy" comedy you don't see much anymore. Like the comedy revolution of the early 1980s ("Caddyshack," "Stripes," "Vacation"), the film takes humor very seriously, and blessedly remains side-splitting for the entire running time. There are no life lessons to be learned, no character arcs to be completed, just laughs all the way through. Now I wouldn't say that the story here is particularity winning, nor the conclusion all that satisfying, but the sheer volume of belly laughs in "Old School" is almost unprecedented. It's not just that the film is uproarious, but that it really wants to be the funniest thing you've seen in recent memory. Whatever faulty script problems there are to be picked at are all forgiven when your face hurts from laughing by the time the credits roll.
This is Todd Phillips' second big-studio comedy. His first was an appealing, similarly estrogen-challenged sleeper from 2000 called "Road Trip." I assumed Phillips got lucky with that hilarious film, and that duplicating the success would be impossible. What "Old School" clearly displays is a young talent who knows plenty about what a chuckle needs to grow into a roar. He's a confident joke teller, using both the obvious and the details in his set pieces. "Old School" isn't going to win awards, but I've seldom come across a film that's as welcoming as this one. I chalk that up to Phillips' winning outlook on comedy: that nothing should stop it once the gates have been opened.
"Old School" is chock full of hilarious moments, mostly at the expense of iconic collegiate attitudes and the very idea of grown men living out their frat house fantasies, all while painful reminders of real life creep back into their lives. However, there are some destined-to-be-classic scenes to contend with. The "Master Of Puppets" sequence is one of these, where the boys sadistically scream around the campus in a van, kidnapping their pledges one by one, all set to the classic Metallica tune. Another features Will Ferrell, a tranquilizer gun, and an underwater homage to "The Graduate" that almost guarantees smiles, if not fall-to-your-knees laughter. There are also episodes involving the oldest pledge, a 90 year-old man named Blue, who quickly jumps into the hearts of his frat brothers with his K-Y jelly wrestling ways, even when his own heart fails him.
Playing to their already well-covered areas of acting strengths, the three leads, while not forging new ground, play up their characters with ease and comfort. Luke Wilson is a master of the droopy-eyed normal guy shtick, and he plays the role convincingly. While not responsible for many laughs, Wilson is the solid spine the rest of the film branches out from. Will Ferrell's Frank is the maniac; a newly regenerated alcoholic that allows Ferrell to do what he does best: get naked a whole bunch and flop around. Vince Vaughn's Beanie is the salesman, providing ample time for Vaughn to use his motor-mouth comedy skills that, honestly, nobody else in the business has. Vaughn is one entertaining smooth talker, and though his role is more restrained than his career-best in 2001's "Made," the actor is given ample opportunity to steal the picture from everybody else.
Even if you don't come away from "Old School" loving it, I feel it deserves heaps of respect. With all the comedies coming out in theaters today trying to grow a heart where none should be, "Old School" is an invigorating reminder that comedies can just be comedies and still attain excellence.
Filmfodder Grade: A