I've got a movie test for you.
This week, go see "Zack & Miri" and "Role Models."
Just do it.
Okay, what'd you think?
In a single month, Elizabeth Banks gives us two strong comic performances grounded in humanity. I'm becoming more and more convinced that Banks is one of our up and coming leading ladies.
Comedy? She can do it.
Drama? She can do it.
Quirky? Yep, she can do that, too.
While Banks's role in "Role Models," a film co-written by actor Paul Rudd and David Wain, is fairly modest in size, it adds further sparkle to her burgeoning career.
In "Role Models," Wheeler (Seann William Scott, "American Pie") and Danny (Paul Rudd) are two hyped up friends who drive from school to school touting Minotaur, an energy drink. When the two find themselves in trouble and sentenced to community service, they end up under the guidance of Sweeny (Jane Lynch), formerly a coked up hippie type now in charge of the community service.
The two end up assigned to a youth mentoring program, where Danny ends up with Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, McLovin in "Superbad"), a supremo role playin' nerd, and Wheeler ends up with 10-year-old potty mouth extraordinaire Ronnie (Bobb'e J. Thompson).
If this sounds like a "been there, seen that" film you're partially right. There's no denying that "Role Models" is, or at least its plot is, fairly formulaic.
Rudd's script, however, makes up for the fairly formulaic script with funny and crisp dialogue and, even more surprisingly, sensitive and grounded performances across the board.
Seann William Scott? He hasn't been this funny since "American Pie."
Rudd? He's always great, but he's got a solid chemistry with Scott that elevates "Role Models" considerably.
As he did in "Superbad," Christopher Mintz-Plasse practically steals every scene he's in. Rather than turn his sci-fi nerd into just another caricature, Mintz-Plasse's Augie is a fairly well adjusted, rather sweet nerd whom you can't help but completely adore. It's reminiscent of Michael Cera's recent turn in "Nick & Nora's Infinite Playlist" in the sense that it doesn't really require Mintz-Plasse to grow, but it perfectly capitalizes on his strengths as an actor.
On a weekend when Chris Rock's "Madagascar 2" is likely to win the box-office, Bobb'e J. Thompson brings to mind the funny man with a larger than life, uber-confident performance as a 10-year-old who hasn't had a mentor last more than a day with him...until, of course, Wheeler.
To be sure, "Role Models" won't work well for everyone.
A 10-year-old who has no problem dropping the F-bomb? Parents are likely to cringe and/or think they accidentally walked into a Billy Bob Thornton movie.
However, like "Zack & Miri" last week, there's something refreshingly wonderful about a film that takes its "R" rating and wears it like a badge of honor.
"Role Models" may, as well, appear to be a bit tired for folks who have gotten a bit weary of the Apatow style of filmmaking combining humor with heart. "Role Models" is nowhere near as edgy as most Apatow fare and falls quite a bit short of Kevin Smith's "Zack & Miri Make a Porno," which after only a week at the box-office seems almost universally known as "Zack & Miri" now.
Still, while there's nothing particularly outstanding about "Role Models," it is a consistently funny, engaging and surprisingly involving film largely owing to Rudd's dialogue and a strong ensemble cast.
Role models? Not quite. Pretty funny guys, though.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic