THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"OLD SCHOOL"

I grew up in the 80s, so the comedies I saw were of a certain type. Many of them starred cast members from the original “Saturday Night Live”. Many of them were a little edgy, a little politically incorrect. There was a certain anarchic spirit about them. Caddyshack, The Blues Brothers, Stripes – those are the films that made me laugh so hard I nearly fell out of my chair. Today’s comedies tend to be either homogenized or of the grossout variety. The grossout films are not the same. Close, but not the same. They're all about the grossness, rather than the people. Thank goodness, then, for Todd Phillips. The filmmaker – who also brought us Road Trip – is probably the only guy out there intentionally trying to recapture the spirit of those great 80s comedies. I can easily imagine his latest picture, Old School, being made circa 1985 with people like Bill Murray or Dan Aykroyd.

Luke Wilson stars as Mitch, a guy who cuts out of a work seminar early so he can go home. When he finds his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) in the middle of some rather kinky sexual escapades, Mitch falls into a deep funk and leaves. He rents out a former professor’s house on the campus of a local university. His best friend Beanie (Vince Vaughn) is an unhappily married guy who thinks Mitch’s new pad would make a perfect party house. This sounds good to mutual buddy Frank (Will Farrell), a.k.a. “Frank the Tank,” who just got married and thinks he may have made a mistake.

One wild house party leads Beanie to come up with another idea. Figuring it will cheer everyone up, he decides to recapture some old glory and start a fraternity. The pledges include a couple college kids, but also a few other thirtysomething guys in crisis. The frat is certainly fun, but it also makes Mitch look bad in front of Nicole (Ellen Pompeo), a former classmate with whom he rekindles a flirtation. It turns out to be sort of a bad idea for Frank, who reverts to his younger, more booze-addled days. Trouble continues brewing when the college dean (Jeremy Piven) tries to shut the house down.

Hollywood must be filled with young men in their thirties who feel their lives are empty. A lot of movies get made on this subject (Fight Club is another that springs to mind). Perhaps thirty is that age where a man has little choice but to grow up. After thirty, you’re establishment whether you like it or not. Certainly Mitch, Beanie, and Frank have a lot to be happy about; they just are too caught up mourning their own lost hedonism to realize it.

Old School certainly has a funny premise. What it does with that premise is inspired. Sure, there are plenty of outrageous moments, such as a party at which the main attraction is wrestling naked women in a wading pool full of K-Y jelly. Really, though, the movie is a parody of male angst. The characters fall so easily back into their college ways because they have so totally glorified that time in their lives. Being grown up scares them; acting like an 18-year old seems a much preferable option. They’re too blind to see that it’s actually detrimental to their overall happiness.

The movie works because the casting is so ideal. These are smart actors playing smart guys. Vaughn does a funny variation of his slickster persona. Beanie is always hustling something, always looking for a solution. His wife and child seem perfectly nice, but he thinks he needs a frat house mentality to be happy. Luke Wilson plays Mitch as a guy so stunned by his own inability to achieve maturity that he’s almost emotionally paralyzed. I like his deer-in-the-headlights approach. The best performance is from Will Farrell. This guy is fearless (as you will see in the scene where he streaks down Main Street). Farrell is hilarious as Frank, who thinks acting young again will give him something he lost. He gets most of the big laughs, but also some surprisingly emotional scenes. At first, I expected Frank to be sort of a modern-day Bluto from Animal House - all id, no superego. As the film goes on, we start to see a deeper, more human side to the character. Based on this performance, I think Farrell could go the distance in features.

Old School certainly has some moments where the humor falls flat. I thought it hit the bullseye more often than it missed, though. The movie puts together several funny people in a comical story of suspended adolescence. Yeah, they learn a lesson at the end, but the film still goes for humor and hjinks over sentimentality. I like that classic mixture. In fact, there were times when I felt like I was watching Stripes, so closely does the film achieve that distinct 80s comic tone. Old School may not be a magna cum laude comedy, but it's at least as much fun as a good kegger.

( out of four)


Old School is rated R for language,crude humor and sexuality/nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 31 minutes.
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