Nothing Worth Learning in “School for Scoundrels”
- Friday, February 16, 2007
DVD Release Date: February 13, 2007
Theatrical Release Date: September 29, 2006
Rating: PG-13 (for language, crude and sexual content, and some violence)
Run Time: 101 min.
Director: Todd Phillips
Actors: Jon Heder, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacinda Barrett, Michael Clark Duncan, Matt Walsh, Todd Louiso, Horatio Sanz, David Cross, Sarah Silverman
Poor Roger (Jon Heder). He’s tried every self-help book out there, but he still can’t seem to find enough gumption to stick up for himself – or stop fainting, whenever he even looks at his adorable neighbor, Amanda (Jacinda Barrett). As a meter maid, Roger is constantly trying to placate irate customers, even paying their tickets for them. Which sadly, does not stop Roger from getting beaten up every now and then.
Even Roger’s assigned “little Brother” doesn’t like him, and asks for a switch (which makes Roger cry). So when a friend furtively suggests that Roger attend a class for losers, he’s got nothing to, well, lose. Except the $5,000 tuition, of course, which must be brought in cash. Things get weirder still when Roger meets the “professor,” one Dr. P. (Billy Bob Thornton), an autocratic drill sergeant with a sexually ambiguous assistant named Lescher (Michael Clark Duncan).
Together, the men make the class – which includes Walsh (Matt Walsh), Diego (Horatio Sanz) and Eli (Todd Louiso) – go on a hardcore paintball retreat and “initiate conflict” with unsuspecting strangers, sometimes with violent results. Unfortunately, Roger soon learns that Dr. P. also has a tradition of singling out the most successful student in his group for special treatment. So when Roger starts to excel, growing confident enough to date and even kiss Amanda, Dr. P. goes after Amanda for himself. That’s when things start to unravel, and Roger learns that he has more than enough confidence to go around.
With a screenplay written by Scot Armstrong and director Todd Phillips, “School for Scoundrels” is based on a novel by Stephen Potter ("School for Scoundrels or How to Win Without Actually Cheating!") and a 1960 screenplay by Hal Chester and Patricia Moyers. Unfortunately, however, the adaptation doesn’t work. What should have been either dark or funny simply comes across as horrendously cruel.
Take, for example, a running rape joke that begins on the retreat, with Lescher forcing Roger’s three sidekicks to strip to their underwear and bend over a log. Roger intervenes, but not, apparently, before the men are raped, which is referenced only later, then joked about, again and again. That’s supposed to be funny? Consider also Dr. P.’s instructions to “initiate conflict,” without giving any verbal or physical skills to do so – much less teaching about how and with whom they should do so. As a result, while Roger stands up to a workplace bully, and a classmate attacks a random female busker in the park.
Then there’s the school’s teaching, which is founded on a set of devious rules entitled “From the Bar to Your Bed.” For example:
- Friends are just obstacles that stand between you and success.”
- “Be dangerous. It’s cool.”
- “No compliments. Ever.” and
- “Lie, lie and lie some more.”
Lovely. And so representative of the man we’d all like to date and marry. Ah, but there’s the rub. Dr. P. also teaches his students that marriage is for losers. They need to play the field, you see. Forever.
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