Do you like steak? How about ice cream? And beer, right? Now stick them in a blender. Sometimes good ingredients don’t end up mixing well.
You’d think director Todd Philips (“Old School”) could stir up something comical by combining clueless Jon Heder (“Napoleon Dynamite”) and the greasy slimeball perfected by Billy Bob Thornton in “Bad Santa.” Well, it’s kind of like Budweiser steak-cream.
Heder plays Roger, a bumbling parking-enforcement officer with a serious self-esteem problem. He’s pushed around, humiliated and kicked to the curb by the Little Brother he mentors at a local rec center. The center’s manager Ian (David Cross, “Arrested Development”) finally takes pity and gives him a number to call that he says will change his life.
The number leads Roger to a classroom filled with losers being guided by slick alpha-male Dr. P (a role that by now must be second nature to Thornton). Under Dr. P’s tutelage, Roger learns what it means to become a man. But once he gets confident enough to win the heart of his crush (Jacinda Barrett, “Poseidon”), the devious Dr. P turns on his pupil and swiftly steals the girl out from under him.
Roger is aided in his quest to reclaim Amanda by a hey-they-look-familiar entourage including Todd Louiso (“Snakes on a Plane”), Horatio Sanz (“Saturday Night Live”) and Matt Walsh (“Dog Bites Man”). Their not-so-clever master plan to get back at Dr. P climaxes in a not-so-satisfying ending that will leave you wishing you spent your $10 on “Jackass 2” instead.
Brief highlights of the film include a paintball shootout without helmets and a dodgeball-style tennis game, both of which involve one of the two title characters repeatedly struck in the nuts. Most painful of all, however, is a running gag about assistant instructor Lesher (Michael Clark Duncan, “The Green Mile”) actually raping his students. Yeah, creepy.
And while the previews would have you believe otherwise, Ben Stiller only appears for a brief owed-someone-a-favor cameo. He plays ex-student Lonnie in a tacked on role that does little more than attempt to pass a frat-pack torch to Heder, who has yet to prove himself worthy of it.
In “Scoundrels,” Heder stretches himself from a one-dimensional actor to one and a half dimensions at best, the extra half given only for his stylin’ haircut. At times he can be awkwardly charming, but with too much emphasis on the awkward. Similarly, Thornton’s sly demeanor lacks the sleaze of “Bad Santa” or the bite of “Bad News Bears.” He mostly just stands around, grins and lies through his teeth.
“Scoundrels” has little of the bawdy frat charm that Philips invented, and it’s not just because it lacks Vince Vaughn, a Wilson brother or a naked Will Ferrell. It’s missing that smart kind of dumb humor that won’t just elicit a few painful guffaws but can keep the audience laughing throughout.
Rating: 1 and 1/2 out of 5 stars
School for Scoundrels
At the Showcase
and Quality 16