A `School' of nonstop laughs

Movie Review

February 21, 2003|By Jay Boyar | Jay Boyar,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Acarload of women on a "girls' night out" see a naked man with too much beer in him running down the road. These women aren't scandalized so much as they are perversely fascinated. They want to look away, but this goofy drunken nude guy is strangely compelling.

And as they get closer, the driver is horrified to discover that the fleshy, curly-haired fellow is her new husband.

He's just streaking to have fun, he insists, but she sensibly demands that he get in the car. So as her giddily appalled friends scrunch over, he plants his plump derriere on the seat next to them.

This scene, being used to promote Old School, sums up the film's enormous appeal. The funniest wild comedy to come along in way too long, it specializes in situations that go beyond mere political incorrectness - straight into a profoundly awkward realm all their own.

The movie features Saturday Night Live alum Will Ferrell as Frank, that naked newlywed, and Vince Vaughn (Swingers) as Beanie, his longer-married buddy, a motor-mouthed businessman.

The main character is their friend Mitch (Luke Wilson), who has just broken up with his longtime girlfriend. The plot concerns what happens when these three thirtyish amigos decide to found a fraternity in a rented house near the local campus.

Does that premise sound lame? It is. In fact, the whole plot is a shambles. And yet none of this matters much when you're laughing as hard as this film makes you laugh.

The movie's point is emotional discomfort: the entertaining anguish of Frank's wife at seeing her husband publicly naked and at knowing that her friends have seen him, too. And it's about how those friends squirm when they're trapped in a car with the unclothed Frank.

It may sound highfalutin to call Old School a comedy of manners, but that's just what it is. Practically every scene contains something that is awkward for at least one character, and usually for more than one.

As Mitch, Wilson (Legally Blonde, The Royal Tenenbaums) is both folksy and funny enough to play the lead in what could also be described as a romantic comedy. On one level, the film is about how Mitch manages to get his romantic life back on track after a devastating relationship.

Shifty-eyed Vaughn, as Beanie the smoothie, is funny in much the same way that he was as a man-on-the-make in Swingers, except that his character here is married and a dad. It adds a dimension of absurdity to his characterization that Beanie plots some of his biggest skirt-chasing schemes with a little kid in his arms.

Ferrell often steals the show as feckless "Frank the Tank." On Saturday Night Live, Ferrell could sometimes come on too strong, but his larger-than-life comedy style is perfectly sized to fit the big screen.

Ellen Pompeo (Catch Me If You Can) is cute as a box of buttons as Nicole, Mitch's new love interest. And Jeremy Piven (Serendipity) is enjoyably snarky as an evil college dean.

Craig Kilborn (TV's The Late, Late Show) is even snarkier as Nicole's bad-news boyfriend, while Leah Remini (TV's The King of Queens) is amusingly wised up as Beanie's no-nonsense wife. Also very funny are Juliette Lewis as Mitch's ex, Snoop Dogg as himself and the always out-there Andy Dick as ... well, let's just say as a sexual therapist with attitude.

There's no school like this Old School, which earns high marks for hilarity.

Jay Boyar writes for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Old School

Starring Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn

Directed by Todd Phillips

Released by Dreamworks SKG

Time 91 minutes

Rated R (sexual content, nudity, language)

SUN SCORE * * * 1/2

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