Role Models Review
Here’s a question: How many scene-stealing supporting roles does a talented comedy actor have to play before Hollywood realises you’re one of the funniest stars in the industry, and give you your own project? If your name is Paul Rudd then the answer is tens and tens of films! For years now he has been putting in overtime in high-profile comedies, he was the best regular to ever join the cast of Friends, has bolstered mod-com hits such as 40yr Old Virgin and Anchorman, and proved the comic highlight in lesser comedies like Knocked up and Reno:911. As the romantic interest in Amy Heckerling’s I Could Never Be Your Woman, Rudd has proven that he can be an extremely charismatic and witty leading player, but while every other performer in the Apatow film stable appears to have had their own film projects, Rudd has only made it to the status of co-lead in non-Apatow comedies such as his latest turn alongside Sean William Scott in Role Models.
Rudd and Scott play Danny Donahue and Wheeler, who work in promotions for Minotaur energy drink, spending their days travelling from school to school advertising the virtues of the product. On his 10th anniversary at Minotaur the uptight Danny realises that he has wasted his life away in the company and his constant negativity forces his girlfriend Beth to dump him. The next day Danny loses the plot during a presentation and ends up driving his Minotaur Mobile into public property. In order to avoid a jail term, Danny and Wheeler are forced to work 150hours in a big brother programme called Sturdy Wings. Danny is assigned teenager Augie Farks, a loner who has withdrawn into his own fantasy world and become a live action role-playing nut. Wheeler is matched up with Ronnie Shields, a foul mouth black kid who has no patriarchal figure in his life. At first Danny and Wheeler struggle to connect with their new other halves, but eventually they start to forge a bond that makes them question their own lifestyle choices.
As a self confessed Paul Rudd fan I was quite looking forward to Role Models, I wasn’t expecting anything special, but a fun romp with lots of dry wit and charismatic performances would have done the job for me. Role Models doesn’t quite live up to even that modest standard, the film should be re-titled: Coasting, because that’s what everyone involved in this film seems to be doing. Almost all aspects of the production are so middle-of-the-road that it is quite staggering. David Wain directs with a complete and total lack of flair, creating a linear structure of boringly photographed compositions, his sole stylistic contribution is to follow the generic double montage approach: Open with a montage introducing the characters, move into a second act where the characters get to know each other more, then start the closing act with a break up montage. He’s not helped by the fact that Role Models has quite blatantly been made on the cheap, the major stunt in the film is at the start when Danny drives his Minotaur Mobile off a tow-truck and over a statue – which all happens off screen. When you can say that a film’s biggest set piece is a sequence where cast members hit each other about a bit with foam swords in a role-playing medieval battle, then you know said film is not exactly the pinnacle of cinematic excitation.
It also doesn’t help that the script – written by Rudd, Wain and his The State cohort Ken Marino, and Timothy Dowling – is a complete non-entity. The set up suggests that Role Models is supposed to be a character driven comedy, Danny Donahue is in a pretty dark place for most of the film, he’s been stuck in a soul crushingly monotonous job for 10yrs and has become so uptight and withdrawn from society that he’s resentful of everything around him, which leads to the one person he has genuine affection for ending their engagement. The idea is that through this extreme cynical realist being forced to interact with a teen who is similarly withdrawn, but into his own fantasy world, Danny starts to embrace life at face value and accept the eccentricities and foibles of others. It’s a common film message, and one that works well when done right, but in Role Models you never really buy that Danny has gone through much of an emotional journey because the character arc is so superficial it is barely there at all. Wein’s idea of portraying Danny at his lowest ebb is to have Rudd sit on some doorsteps looking forlornly for a couple of seconds, and when Danny does start to be won over by Augie Farks you don’t quite buy it because they really have nothing in common at all beyond the fact they are withdrawn, and there are no significant bonding scenes between the two characters.
Wheeler and Ronnie have the opposite problem, these two characters have so much in common that the friction between the characters when they first meet doesn’t seem genuine. It’s amusing to see Ronnie taking his aggression out on Wheeler, but it feels quite hollow. I found myself wondering why Sean William’s Scott’s character is in the film at all, his sole purpose seems to be to inject some crude sexual humour into the film. Wheeler’s carefree nature is about the only contrast there is between himself and Danny, so they fail to form an effective odd couple. His entire character arc seems to be a slacker taking on the responsibility of becoming a male role model to a child, but he’s not really a mentor to Ronnie as more of a cohort, and through his loyalty to Danny we see that Wheeler can fulfil to duty and loyalty of being a solid male friend from the start of the film. His character goes nowhere beyond being a tiny bit more responsible and considerate, and as with Danny his epiphany later on in the film seems extremely contrived and half-baked.
Both the adults fare a lot better than the children, we’re not given any substantial reasons why they are so withdrawn and in need of role models. We see that Augie’s parents don’t understand or empathise with him on any level, and his weedy physical appearance isn’t going to win him any friends, but that’s about it, we never actually witness him amongst his peers at school. The same goes for Ronnie, he’s a stereotypical angry young black kid, the kind of trash-talking personality white film directors seem to think black males come out of the womb with. We’re not given any suggestions as to why Ronnie is so hostile, apart from the fact that he is an only child to a single mother, but his mother dotes on him so much and is so well adjusted that it makes no sense for her son to be such a little shit. These deficiencies in characterisation result in performances that, while very inoffensive and not completely devoid of charm, are more than a little bland. Even the mighty Paul Rudd fails to coerce any depth from his role. The supporting roles are all rather one-note as well.
Of course, none of the script’s narrative and character failings would matter if it was frequently funny, but Role Models only occasionally rises above mild amusement. There are a handful of typically Rudd-esque observations that will coerce a belly laugh or two, but for the most part the humour is on auto-drive, I feel that given the uninspired script the comedy needed to be played a lot broader with more edge to it. Role Models is the kind of film that thinks edgy humour is casting a 12yr old who says “fuck” a lot and having the central characters swear heavily in front of kids and talk to them in a casual manner about sex and boobies like they were talking to friends down the pub. It’s funny at first, but cannot sustain an entire film - and there’s not much comic relief from the supporting characters to gloss over this, they’re all one-joke roles that quickly become rather tiring. One thing’s for sure, the trailer and the poster make Role Models out to be much more raucous than it actually is.
The best thing I can say about Role Models is that it is a pleasant enough comedy with likeable characters and absolutely nothing going on under the hood for 100minutes. It’s not a terrible film; it’s like the anti-Rushmore: no style, no quirkiness, no worthwhile character-arcs, just a lazy, lazy film that might prove a decent distraction for viewers who are in a lazy, lazy mood.
PresentationRole Model comes to Blu-ray on a BD-50 disc from Universal Pictures UK. It features both the original Theatrical Edition and a slightly ruder Unrated Edition (although the changes are minimal).
Presented in 1080p at a ratio of 1.85:1, Role Models is a very plain looking film with neutral colours and skin tones. Contrast runs a little hot at times and brightness is a touch high, all of which give the image an ever so slightly high-exposed appearance that appears to be Wain’s chosen look for the film, so the blu-ray performs admirably in this respect. Whites may be a little hot, but blacks are satisfyingly deep and only very rarely dip towards grey. The VC-1 encode has a high bitrate that averages around 30.15Mbps and it’s an excellent job - I couldn’t spot any compression artefacts. The print used is also pristine, there are hardly any scratches or spots. Grain is minimal, just an extremely light layer that’s barely noticeable on regular viewing and detail levels are moderate. It may not have that HD pin-sharpness that most contemporary films tend to have but there doesn’t appear to be much DNR applied, although some close ups and mid-shots occasionally reveal some very smooth skin that may be indicative of a little noise reduction in action. There’s a little sharpness filtering present, but the Edge Enhancements weren’t too distracting on my 106” screen. Overall a very satisfactory HD presentation.
I’m always at a loss as to what to say about the audio tracks on these mod-coms. Role Models’ sound design is just as plain as the rest of the production so all we’re looking for is a solid track that reproduces the dialogue clearly and cleanly and has enough growl in the tank to pump the soundtrack out. The English DTS-HD 5.1 track does this effortlessly; it’s surprisingly aggressive for such a modest film, with warm and punchy bass, excellent dynamics, and an expressive soundstage.
This presentation comes with optional subtitles in English For the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish.
ExtrasRole Model comes with a decent chunk of extras, all of which are presented in 1080p with VC-1 encode and English For the Hearing Impaired, French, and Spanish subtitles - except for the interactive content.
First up; the interactive content:
My Scenes: This feature allows you to place bookmarks throughout the film by pressing the coloured buttons on your remote to select the start and end point of any clip from the film, you can then save these clips and send them across the internet with BD Live.
U-Control: Press the red button on your remote during playback of the Unrated Edition of the film and you can bring up a Picture-in-Picture window that shows behind the scenes footage and cast interviews. I don’t know if it is just me being thick or whether the review disc sent hasn’t implemented this feature properly, but for the life of me I could not figure out how to play the audio of this behind the scenes footage, thus rendering the feature completely useless. In the setup menu you can change the volume of the audio track on the U-control feature, but for me there was no audio at all to adjust.
Ye Olde Crest Maker: Here you can create your own Laire crests from the designs provided, but they give you so little choice that you are done with this feature in under five minutes. A complete waste of time.
There are extra features available through access to BD Live, but unfortunately I do not have that access myself, so cannot report on them.
Now the standard features:
Feature Commentary with Director/Co-Writer David Wain: Wain has a lot to say about the Role Models’ production and his history the various actors who appear in the film, but this rather serious track soon becomes quite tiring – informative, but monotonous. They really missed the boat in not getting Rudd involved in this one.
Deleted Scenes and Alternate Takes (49min:49secs): There’s a staggering 41 scenes in this feature, lasting 50mins in total – although that would be cut down considerably if it wasn’t for the fact each scene has its own titles, no matter how short and insignificant they are! There are a couple of scenes that expand the characterisation a little, but most are purely humourous. Some have a cruder tone which puts them more in line with the film’s marketing and provide a few laughs, but most of the scenes are extremely unamusing.
Bloopers (03m:55s): After the mammoth deleted scenes feature I was relieved to find this feature is nice and short. Again the clips are hit and miss, the highlight being Joe Lo Truglio cracking Paul Rudd up with his medieval gibberish.
On the Set of Role Models (07m:41s): Your standard behind the scenes featurette, it’s not long but the various supporting players get coverage here as most of the cast have a long history with David Wain.
Game On: Creating a Role Playing World (09m:43s): A look at the LARPing aspect of the film (Live Action Role Playing) which is pretty much just an extension of the behind the scenes featurette. The role playing stuff is probably the most extravagant part of the film’s production, so it’s good to see how they brought it to screen.
In-Character & Off-Script (08m:07s): 3 short mock interviews from a few characters from the film, in order they are: Martin Gary, Kuzzik, and Davith of Glencracken. There aren’t really any laughs to be had here, but Davith’s interview does manage to reveal a bit of extra character history that should make it worthwhile for fans of the Argotrons.