NEW AT THE MOVIES: 'Role Models' upends formulas
Courtesy of Universal Pictures, From left to right, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Paul Rudd, Seann William Scott and Tajh Bellow star in "Role Models."

Rated R for crude and sexual content, strong language and nudity. 99 minutes. Three stars out of four.

The premise is completely formulaic and potentially cheesy: A couple of go-nowhere buddies get arrested and, for their community work assignment, must serve as big brothers to a pair of misfit kids.

You know from the beginning that many necessary life lessons will be learned and that all parties involved ultimately will be better off for the unlikely friendships they’ve formed. Whittled down to 30 minutes, this could have been a very special episode of “Diff’rent Strokes.” But it’s the wildly, hilariously crude way that director David Wain and Co. approach this concept that makes “Role Models” so disarming.

The rampant wrongness would have been amusing enough on the page: preadolescents spewing obscenities, jokes about bad touching and children being exposed to nudity on a supposedly wholesome camping trip. But the delivery from co-stars Seann William Scott, Paul Rudd and the supporting cast of both comedy veterans and up-and-comers makes the material consistently laugh-out-loud funny.

Wain, who directed “Wet Hot American Summer” and “The Ten,” reunites with several members of the defunct MTV sketch comedy show “The State,” including Ken Marino, Joe Lo Truglio and Kerry Kenney-Silver.

Wain and Rudd are among a half-dozen people who get screenplay and/or story-by credit here. Scott and Rudd are at the film’s core, though, and their disparate styles provide an appealing mix; Scott again plays the manic ladies’ man with no internal censor, while the typically deadpan Rudd is always ready with a sardonic one-liner.

Scott’s Wheeler and Rudd’s Danny spend their days giving peppy, just-say-no talks at Los Angeles schools and peddling the energy drink Minotaur, a job that requires Wheeler to dress up in a furry costume and guzzle gallons of green gunk. Danny, fed up with his life and frustrated that his longtime girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) has just rejected his impetuous and ill-timed marriage proposal, snaps one day and gets himself and Wheeler in trouble with the law.

Rather than going to jail, the two end up working with the Sturdy Wings mentoring group.

This is the kind of movie in which an adult and a child can bond over the not-so-subtle metaphor contained within the song “Love Gun.” Inappropriate? For sure. But also kind of sweet — and a model for comedies that are trying to strike that elusive balance.

Soul Men

Rated R for pervasive language, and sexual content including nudity. 103 minutes. Two stars out of four.

The stale buddy road-trip movie “Soul Men” will be remembered mainly as the untimely swan song of Bernie Mac, the comic great who died in August at just 50.

When it’s about Mac and Samuel L. Jackson, co-starring as former band mates bickering over decades of pent-up resentments, “Soul Men” has a fiercely raunchy, buoyant energy about it. Trouble is, the movie from director Malcolm Lee (“Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins”) and screenwriters Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone crams in myriad needless subplots.

Mac and Jackson, who were longtime friends off-screen, bounce off each other with expert timing and equally matched, wild-eyed volatility, and when they’re on, the movie is on.

Mac’s Floyd Henderson and Jackson’s Louis Hinds were one-time backup singers to Marcus Hooks (John Legend), and the three were a popular Motown-style group until Marcus took off on his own for solo stardom.

Louis and Floyd stuck it out as a duo through the 1970s until record sales dropped and they fell in love with the same woman, which tore them apart.

With the announcement of Marcus’ death, the two must reunite for a tribute concert at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

Their ensuing road trip also allows them to dust off their act (and their wardrobes) at various gigs along the way — Flagstaff; Amarillo, Texas — and spar some more. The duo seem to be having a goofy good time harmonizing and busting out their old-school dance moves, and the fact that they can’t really sing all that well makes the performances amusingly self-effacing.

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