"The filmmakers here have chosen to lean on slapstick and stereotypes rather than the wry British wit of the source material."

School For Scoundrels

on September 29, 2006 by Tim Cogshell
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In this adaptation of Stephen Potter's series of novels, which were also the source material for a 1960 British version starring Terry-Thomas and Alastair Sim, Jon Heder, aka Napoleon Dynamite, plays a character named Roger, a meek NYC meter maid and all-around loser. He's in love with his neighbor Amanda (Jacinda Barrett, “Poseidon”), but he faints every time he tries to talk to her. So a buddy (David Cross) hips Napoleon -- er, Roger -- to the underground School for Scoundrels, where he can learn to be a lion or something. The class is run by the nefarious Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton) and his large black kinda- gay assistant, Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”). Dr. P teaches his loser students the ways of the scoundrel, which basically centers on lying to have sex but sets his sights on Amanda, and the battle is on.

Heder is much better looking than his “Dynamite” character, but Roger equals Napoleon in his slack-jawed Chauncey effect -- just without the perm. Thornton is doing “Bad Santa” mixed with his character from “The Ice Harvest” -- a shtick that's mean and funny but wearing thin. Sara Silverman (“Jesus is Magic”) provides a slightly less vulgar turn as Amanda's no-nonsense roommate, and there are a host of pointless, distraacting cameos, including one from Todd Phillips alum Ben Stiller (“Starsky & Hutch,” also directed by Phillips).

“School for Scoundrels” ought to be a good deal funnier than it is, which isn't to say it doesn't have its moments -- it does. It's just that the filmmakers here have chosen to lean on slapstick and stereotypes rather than the wry British wit of the source material. This is not surprising. Director and co- screenwriter Phillips (with Scot Armstrong) is that sort of filmmaker, as can be seen in his films “Frat House,” “Old School” and “Road Trip.” He's never seen a silly bit he didn't like -- or use. Billy Boy Thornton, Jon Heder, Jacinda Barrett, Michael Clarke Duncan, Sarah Silverman, Horatio Sanz, David Cross, Luis Guzman and Ben Stiller. Directed by Todd Phillips. Written by Todd Phillips and Scot Armstrong. Produced by Daniel Goldberg and Geyer Kosinski. A Weinstein release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for language, crude and sexual content and some violence. Running time: 97 min.

Tags: Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Heder, Jacinda Barrett, Michael Clarke Duncan, Sarah Silverman, Horatio Sanz, David Cross, Luis Guzman and Ben Stiller. Directed by Todd Phillips. Written by Todd Phillips and Scot Armstrong, Produced by Daniel Goldberg, Geyer Kosinski, Weinstein, Comedy
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