OLD SCHOOL

3 Stars
Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 91 minutes
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This is a comedy with a number of extremely funny running jokes but the funniest has to be the film’s centerpiece in which the recently married Will Ferrell is discovered by his disbelieving bride (and a carful of her closest friends) running stark naked and hammered out of his head down the middle of his town’s busiest street. You no doubt have a sense of the scene since it’s featured in the movie’s TV ads. What you may doubt is the ability of the rest of the picture to measure up to that standard. Or down to it. Either way, you needn’t worry.
After all, “Old School” director Todd Phillips is on familiar ground. His previous work includes Road Trip, which chronicled the misadventures of a group of fraternity buds. Prior to that he’d made a documentary called Frat House, a controversial hit at Sundance in 1998. It’s a safe bet that, like the rest of us, he’s watched “Animal House” at least half a dozen times. Put that together and Phillips may be the world’s foremost authority on frat-themed filmmaking.
This is a frat film with a difference, however. The director turns the tradition on its head telling his story from the point of view of grownups wistful for the unfetterdness of youth rather than adolescents who covet the license of adults. Ferrell and Vince Vaughn play guys for whom married life has, to say the least, lost its luster. Luke Wilson’s a friend on the rebound from a disastrous relationship. Vaughn helps him find a house near the local college campus. When it comes to light that the building is zoned for university use only, he decides to turn it into a frat house figuring the move will help reintroduce Wilson into the dating stream while providing both himself and Ferrell with a no-pressure home away from home.
What it also provides is the basis for a series of gags, a few of which are on the insipid side and a majority of which are semi-inspired. All by itself, the notion of a renegade house made up of middle aged refugees from the mainstream is loopily appealing. What responsible breadwinner can’t relate to the fantasy of returning for a time to the Dionysian days of post secondary education? Many people who partied along with John Belushi in their 20s are going to savor the chance to do the same in their 40s or 50s with Ferrell.
And the actor is the perfect avatar for a comic midlife crisis. The ultimate anti-Bluto, Ferrell has few peers when it comes to playing well intentioned wormboys who can’t get the hang of adulthood. His inner child clearly wants to drink up not grow up and the best part of attending “Old School” is watching what happens when he lets the wild child have his way.
Wilson and Vaughn are highly entertaining as well. Vaughn in particular proves a considerably more natural comic talent than one might expect in light of his convincing portrayal of Norman Bates and the fact that he sounds chillingly like Christopher Walken. The film also features a nifty turn by Jeremy Piven as the disapproving dean who targets the manimal house for elimination. The twist, of course, is that we’ve all gotten so old that the disgruntled administrator is now a contemporary of the miscreants, a doofus they’d known and messed with a bit in their younger days. Unfortunately for our three stooges the guy’s sense of humor hasn’t improved with age and he makes it his mission to put them out of funny business. Given the movie’s premise, it’s the perfect touch.
Motion pictures don’t get a whole lot dopier. Brows don’t go a whole lot lower. In these troubled times, though, a good laugh is almost never a bad thing and almost every frame of “Old School” is grade A goofball fun.



Posted on March 4, 2003 in Reviews by
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