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The gloves have been off for some time. I don't particularly care for Will Ferrell. It's one of those things, like my distaste for THE MATRIX and the Beastie Boys, that most people don't understand. But like that old Head and Shoulders commercial used to go, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression." And my first impression of Will Ferrell was in that god-awful "Spartan Spirit" sketch from SNL. That stuck in my craw to this day, and every time I see him, that's all I think of.
That said, Will Ferrell provided me with the one truly laugh-out-loud moment in OLD SCHOOL.
When I first started seeing ads for this film, I wasn't exactly revved up to see it. I'm no Ferrell fan, after all, and Luke Wilson seems to only be worth his weight in roles written by his brother Owen and directed by Wes Anderson, and Vince Vaughn is, well, uh, I really liked him in SWINGERS but he hasn't really done anything worthwhile since. But I did like Todd Phillips' previous effort ROAD TRIP on the most basic level of entertainment value, so I figured I'd give this one a shot. I mean, it couldn't possibly be as bad as either the new Steve Martin comedy where he dates Queen Latifah or the new Chris Rock movie where he runs for president.
OLD SCHOOL centers around Mitch, a real estate lawyer whose life gets turned around when he catches his girlfriend being not-so-faithful to him. In response, he moves into a house right on the campus of the local university. His friends Beanie (Vaughn) and Frank (Ferrell), both experiencing the rigors of married life, take advantage of Mitch's new found freedom to try to bring some excitement to their own lives. After a wild party catches the ear of the college Dean, they risk losing the house unless they can find their way into some sort of loophole. Their answer is to organize a non-traditional fraternity where admission is open to those beyond the realm of academia.
Of course, there's pitfalls in the way. The Dean is not content to let this go on, so he begins coming up with alternative methods to shut the frat down. Meanwhile, Mitch, who was reluctant to follow along with Beanie's scheme to launch the frat in the first place, becomes sort of a local celebrity. All over campus, he's known as "The Godfather". All of this craziness eventually begins to interfere with Mitch's job as well as stifling his plans to relight a flame with a high school crush.
OLD SCHOOL, in a way, is both better and worse than I expected. Better in the sense that I went in expecting the absolute worst for this film, but worse in that I felt there was a lot of untapped potential here. First off, the storytelling seems kind of lazy. This movie was fun for the first half, when it was just a series of goofy events involving our stars and their bizarre initiation stunts for the fraternity. Once the story kicks in, it begins to feel a little tedious. Sure, you can't have a story without conflict, but coming up with such an uncompelling set of obstacles doesn't help much. Jeremy Piven hams it up, perhaps a little too much, as the Dean with a vendetta against Mitch and his pals, but it's hard to take his character seriously enough to really care about his efforts to shut them down.
And I know you're probably not looking for scathing realism in a lowbrow comedy about a bunch of thirtysomethings reliving their youths, but some of the things set forth in OLD SCHOOL are just so far-fetched that even the most easily pleased viewer has to shake their heads. Case in point: almost every plot point in this movie is based on some sort of legal loophole. And of course, everyone in the film has the ability to learn of these loopholes and use them to their advantage. It helps as well that Mitch just happens to be a Real Estate Laywer. Of course, the common syndrome occurs again here as well regarding college movies: It's a lot more believable if you have people who have actually recently been in college to write them.
But then again, you don't go to this type of movie for something poignant and socially relevant. You go to laugh. And there's no doubt you'll do that while watching OLD SCHOOL. The first half of the film is just chock full of funny moments. The pure audacity of some of the things they'll do for a laugh are worth seeing. AMERICAN PIE opened the doors for the rebirth of the vulgar comedy a few years ago, and ROAD TRIP set the bar. OLD SCHOOL applies that mentality toward some fun results, some of which revolve around the fact that Will Ferrell will just do anything to get a laugh.
In the long run, I don't think this film will have the staying power of some of its predecessors, but it's worth a look if you're looking for something mindlessly fun on a Friday night. And on top of all that, it has a great soundtrack. From the obscenity-laced take on Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" sung by the band at Frank's wedding to the toned-down arrangement of Whitesnake's Here I go Again" to the excellent use of Metallica's "Master Of Puppets" during the initiation scenes, the music keeps the movie up on points for entertainment value. Definitely worth a look, just don't go in expecting Shakespeare.
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