While I think Paul Rudd is one of the best comedic actors at work today, I don’t feel his efforts as a leading man have been all that great. His work as a supporting player in the Judd Apatow comedies and, most notably, as a casual murderer in Wet Hot American Summer, is some of the funniest stuff put to celluloid this decade. Still, most of his work where his role has been bigger has been somewhat less than stellar … until now.
Rudd is on comedic fire in Role Models, the latest effort from his Wet Hot American Summer director David Wain (who also directed Rudd in the surprisingly bad The Ten). Rudd is always best when playing a grumpy jerk, and he gets an entire film to do that with Role Models. Seann William Scott, an actor of comic potential who has been struggling of late, also gets a nice opportunity to shine.
As Danny Donahue, belligerent rep for Minotaur, a bad-tasting energy drink, Rudd finds the role he’s always deserved. Traveling from school to school telling kids to drink Minotaur instead of taking drugs, Danny is a miserable bastard. He picks verbal fights with nearly everybody he encounters, much to the dismay of girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks), who finally gets fed up with him after his confrontation with a barista. The combination of girl trouble and job dissatisfaction results in some law breaking and a community service sentence. His Minotaur partner and eager friend Wheeler (Scott) was present for the crime and receives the same sentence.
The two are required to mentor kids or they will have to serve time in jail. Danny is assigned to Augie Farks (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka Fogell from Superbad) who has an unhealthy obsession with medieval fantasy role-play. Wheeler gets Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson), a foul-mouthed terror who accuses Wheeler of attempted molestation within seconds of meeting him.
To watch Rudd tearing down a woman who insists upon calling a large coffee a “venti,” or admitting that because he’s a white guy he just might be Ben Affleck, is comic nirvana. His anger is the sort of coiled, sarcastic anger that very few comedians can pull off. His character’s a terrible guy, but you can’t help but root for him because his putdowns are so intelligently and eloquently delivered. And because Rudd also possesses decent dramatic acting chops, his character’s eventual deliverance from the dark side is convincing and moving, in a ridiculous sort of way.
Scott has seen his share of duds, but he makes up for at least a few of them with his work in this movie. His Wheeler is perhaps a tad like Stifler from American Pie, but not nearly as mischievous. He’s a lady-killer, but he’s also susceptible to bitch slaps from little kids, and he gets into trouble mostly because he’s in the passenger seat of Danny’s car. Scott is on a little roll with this and his good work in The Promotion opposite John C. Reilly.
Mintz-Plasse proves he’s no one-hit wonder with his portrayal of Augie, and he has now played two very different and quite epic nerds in the last couple of years. His final conquering speech during a fantasy sword battle—complete with a hilarious Marvin Hamlisch reference—is a crowning achievement. Thompson, at the ripe old age of 12, is a master of profanity. I haven’t laughed this hard at a cursing kid since Tanner Boyle in The Bad News Bears.
Wain, a graduate of both The State and Stella, gets back to form after the misstep that was The Ten. He shows an ability to handle ensemble acting, while retaining his eye for the bizarre. The relationships in this movie are sincere, and when the film veers off into outrageous territories like fantasy role-playing, it still feels balanced. Fans of Wet Hot American Summer will very much appreciate this film’s camping sequence. Let’s hope he directs another film with Rudd in his cast very soon.