“Role Models” takes some “Wet Hot American Summer,” a bit of “American Pie,” and only a dab (a dab!) of Judd Apatow, rolling them up into a jumbled and slightly remarkable mess. Writer/director David Wain places his movie at the intersection of modern youth comedy’s various influences, then awkwardly shoves them through one disjointed scene after another. The film goes through tonal mood swings, at times pulsing with a full-on “Wet Hot” wackiness, only to then mellow out in dull (and mainstream) moralizing. Ultimately, this wheeling from formula to invention, back and forth, on no other basis than impulse, sinks the comedy. What’s needed is a balancing presence. Some more Judd would have been nice.
At least some of his boys are represented. Paul Rudd plays Danny, friend and business partner of Stifler — woops — I mean Wheeler, played by the still libidinous Sean William Scott. Dressed like Minotaurs, they roll around in a horned pick-up, pitching a grass-colored energy drink that will a)keep kids off the streets, and b)make them piss green. These guys are trouble from the get-go, and we’re not surprised when they accidently ram their bull truck up the back of a horse statue. Needless to say, the movie’s sexual undertones are slightly more explicit than those of “High School Musical 3: Senior Year.”
Thank god Danny’s ex Beth (Elizabeth Banks, her third role in nearly a month) is around. She gets the boys out of a month in jail to log 150 hours of “role modeling,” all under the auspices of Gayle Sweeny’s SturdyWings program. Gayle is played by Jane Lynch, who delivers the best and strangest lines of the film (she’s a product of the “Wet Hot” world). She assigns Danny and Wheeler to two boys named Augie and Ronnie. They are both misunderstood pariahs of sorts: Augie (Christopher Mintz-Passe, McLovin’ in a former life) spends his time dressed as a knight, fighting other armored adults in fantastical battles waged in the parking lot of a burger joint. Ronnie draws “boobie fantasies” during arts and crafts.
All of these characters hold promise, but the script’s moral baggage does not give them an adequate opportunity to release their pent-up whack. There’s no surprise when the males have a falling out midway through, and there’s no surprise when all come together in the final scene (even if it’s in song!). Call me perverse, but I wanted to hear more of Gayle’s cokehead past and listen to more of Ronnie’s evidence that Paul Rudd is in fact Ben Affleck (“Suck it, Reindeer Games!”).
It’s as if one of the four writers tried to steer this movie in an utterly preposterous direction, but was defeated by the forces of formula and easy stereotypes. Too bad – craziness needs consistency.