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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Steven Brill|
scr Kristofor Brown, Seth Rogen
with Owen Wilson, Nate Hartley, Troy Gentile, David Dorfman, Leslie Mann, Alex Frost, Josh Peck, Valerie Tian, Ian Roberts, Lisa Ann Walter, Danny R McBride, Adam Baldwin
release US 21.Mar.08, UK 28.Mar.08
08/US Paramount 1h42
Schoolhouse shenanigans: Mann and Wilson (above); Dorfman, Gentile and Hartley (below)
Silly and sometimes even funny, this goofy comedy harks back to 1980-style filmmaking, straining to be Caddyshack meets My Bodyguard. But by the end, we're still waiting for it to spring to life.
Wade and Ryan (Hartley and Gentile) are awkward teens on their first day in high school and already the prime targets of bully Filkins (Frost) and his sidekick Ronnie (Peck). They end up befriending the school nerd (Dorfman), which only makes things worse. So in an act of desperation, they take out an ad for a bodyguard. Enter the ex-Marine Drillbit Taylor (Wilson), a homeless guy up to whatever scam comes along. But of course he begins to actually care about these kids. And he also falls for their over-sexed teacher (Mann).
From the opening moments, it's pretty clear this film was cowritten by one of the guys behind Superbad, as it features a virtually identical central trio of teens: skinny geek, chubby clown and hyperactive nerd. But even if it feels like a three-years-earlier prequel, it lacks Superbad's raw humour and resonance, opting instead for a more obvious style of comedy with huge waves of sentiment along the way. There's never a doubt where this is going.
The cast is strong, creating characters that are watchable and situations that get us laughing. Wilson has an offhanded charm as a guy who thinks on his feet--no stretch at all, but it works. And his scenes with Mann zing with wit and chemistry. Meanwhile, Hartley, Gentile and Dorfman make an enjoyable team at the centre (Frost and Peck are one-note villains). But it's one of those films that sits there on the screen keeping us entertained without ever actually connecting with us.
And despite some sharp dialog and continual movie references, there's a severe problem in the film's ultimate message: to beat the bullies and get the girl you need to be even more vicious, sneaky and nasty than they are. Not only is this a bad message for teens, but it undermines the script's own set-up, in which it ridicules Wade's gung-ho musclehead stepdad (Roberts). Come to think of it, this isn't such a good message for adults either.
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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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