Review: Old School (2003)

>> Sunday, June 7, 2009

USA/C-91m./Dir: Todd Phillips/Wr: Todd Phillips & Scott Armstrong/Cast: Luke Wilson (Mitch Martin), Will Ferrell (Frank “the Tank” Ricard), Vince Vaughn (Bernard “Beanie” Campbell), Jeremy Piven (Dean Gordon Pritchard), Ellen Pompeo (Nicole), Juliette Lewis (Heidi)

In making Old School, writer/director Todd Phillips attempted to capture the feel of the R-rated comedies of the Seventies and Eighties, with National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) as the most obvious inspiration. The film ended up succeeding on many levels. It was a box office champ, and it served to boost the careers of its director and stars (especially Will Ferrell). However, as a film comedy, Old School was a mixed bag at best.

The story concerns a frustrated 30-year-old, Mitch Martin (Luke Wilson), who moves into an old house on the edge of a university after catching his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) in the act of cheating with multiple partners. While Mitch is just looking for a quiet place to forget his troubles, his thirty-something buddies--stereo magnate Beanie Campbell (Vince Vaughn) and quiet spoken, newly married Frank Ricard (Will Ferrell)--see Mitch’s new digs as an opportunity to relive their wild college days. Beanie initially throws Mitch a beer-drenched blow-out, in which mild-mannered Frank funnels numerous beers and reverts to his animalistic, pre-marriage “Frank the Tank” persona. On the rocks with his wife, Frank moves in with Mitch; and Beanie convinces the pair to start up a fraternity for outcasts of all ages. Of course, the middle-aged frat boys soon get in trouble with the strait-laced Dean (Jeremy Piven).

There are certainly laughs to be had in Old School, but the film is decidedly uneven. The jokes work best when they are reality based and even a little subtle, such as Ferrell’s earnest description of his plans for Saturday at the Home Depot, the unnecessarily foul-mouthed band in the background of the wedding scene, and the way Mitch’s boss offers him Skittles. Unfortunately, the script tends to tilt more towards cheap and broad gags. Phillips seems to have drawn out more of what worked worst in Animal House (cartoon jokes such as when Kevin Bacon gets flattened) and less of what worked best.

While the acting is good throughout, the material and the casting sometimes get in the way of the performances. For example, Luke Wilson is at his best with quirky material (such as 1996’s Bottle Rocket), but as the lead in Old School, he is given little to do but play the straight man for much of the movie. Consequently, he fades in the background as Ferrell and Vaughn hog the spotlight. Jeremy Piven is also miscast. Playing a square, uptight character seems to run opposite of his natural demeanor, and the resulting performance is unnatural. He would have been more effectively cast as one of the frat boys. Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell come off best. Vaughn’s motor mouth routine is consistently funny (“earmuffs”), and many of Will Ferrell’s physical bits are inspired.

Ultimately, Old School will be remembered as the film that propelled Will Ferrell from being known as a Saturday Night Live cast member to the ranks of A-list movie stardom. Whether that ultimately was for good or ill, I will leave it up to you to decide.

Drinks Consumed--Beer, wine, and whiskey

Intoxicating Effects--Slurred speech, stumbling, loosened inhibitions, public nudity, soused sex, memory blackouts, and public disturbance

Potent Quotables--FRANK (After funneling a beer): Fill it up again! It’s so good! Once it hits your lips it’s so good!

Video Availability--Old School Unrated Edition DVD and Old School Unrated Edition [Blu-ray] (DreamWorks)

Similarly Sauced Cinema-- Todd Phillips once again paired male bonding with bountiful booze in 2009’s The Hangover.

Mitch-a-Palooza Old School T-shirt


Chris B. June 18, 2009 at 9:17 AM  

First, the site looks awesome. Nice work there.

Second, this is one of my all-time favorite movies for all-out silliness. So many great scenes. I'll take the unevenness for wall to wall entertainment.

"I see Blue... and he looks... glorious."

garv June 18, 2009 at 5:43 PM  

Thanks for the kind words. I've put a lot of time into the site lately.

As for OLD SCHOOL, the flick does have a lot of laughs. It just doesn't have much repeat value for me. It has a few too many jarring moments where a joke is used just for the sake of the joke, even if it clashes with the reality that the film has set up. I agree with the philosophy Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant used when writing the original version of THE OFFICE--if a joke detracts from the story you're trying to tell, throw it out.

Matthew R August 28, 2010 at 1:30 AM  

Jeremy Piven's casting, I think, was a joke because of his character in PCU. In PCU he's a partying student, but in Old School, he's like Dean Wormer. I thought he totally sold it.

You should take a look at PCU (Politically Correct University). It's a particularly good Animal House knock-off. And best of all, it's got cameos by George Clinton and the Parliament-Funkadelic.

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