The standard for comedies aimed at folks under 30 has become “foul mouth, fond heart.” But too many have no heart at all, just a pretense of warmth to satisfy convention after two hours of mockery. “Role Models” is different. Though its grosses may not soar into the realm occupied by “Superbad” and “American Pie,” it has more sympathy for its characters.
Its stars come from those two movies, not to mention “Knocked Up” and Christopher Guest's improvisational pieces. There are different flavors here, and director David Wain blends them smoothly. The script passed through at least three people besides Wain – Ken Marino, Timothy Dowling and star Paul Rudd – yet it holds together, with everyone in the film playing to his own strength.
Rudd is Danny, the same kind of guy he played in “Knocked Up”: a quietly cynical man unsatisfied by his job, prospects and long-term relationship with a woman (Elizabeth Banks). Seann William Scott is Wheeler, the same kind of guy HE played in “American Pie,” a breezy horndog who thinks every beer and babe are fair game.
They work selling an energy drink, until Danny goes ballistic at a middle school. They're sentenced to 150 hours of community service at a Big Brothers-like nonprofit led by Gayle (Jane Lynch, whose daffy monologues sound as if she were making them up for Guest).
Enter Augie and Ronnie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Bobb'e J. Thompson). The former is a role-playing, shy, bespectacled teen too nerdy to approach a girl – yes, the same kind of kid Mintz-Plasse played in “Superbad,” though this one realizes he's a nerd – and the latter is a sewer-mouthed 10-year-old who compensates for short stature with a long string of crude remarks, most of them about sexual impulses he can hardly have had. (Wain and company wear that joke out quickly.)
You see where this is going: The two men botch their assignments, straighten themselves out, realize they truly like their young charges and intervene successfully in their lives. But I don't think you'll expect the way in which it happens, though the movie drops a couple of clues.
Not all the problems get solved, not all the characters find the right people to love, not everyone has an epiphany. (Poor Augie will be just as unpopular in high school, away from the world of foam-padded swords and hand-sewn capes he inhabits on weekends.) The nice thing at last, though, is that each character is encouraged to “find his flock,” as schoolteachers say, however oddly plumed that flock appears to others.
The film deserves its R rating. I wish producers hadn't skittered away from a PG-13 approach, afraid the 18-to-25 crowd would abandon them; this is a movie middle schoolers would've enjoyed – and maybe learned from – while their older siblings and parents were smiling at double entendres. You can't say that about most offerings in this crass, overcrowded genre.