Old School Review
Read an alternative review by Matt Day (Region 2 DVD)
A comedy about three thirtysomething guys who rediscover their youth by starting a college fraternity house, Old School suffers from the same confusion as its main characters. It doesn't know whether it's a grown-up satire on the state of modern manhood or a juvenile college comedy like director Todd Phillips' previous film, Road Trip. Eventually it settles for being a raunchy comedy but more's the pity because it's the smarter material that's funniest. As a satire, it's clever, biting and observant and blessed with spot-on performances by Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. As a dumb Saturday night laugh-fest, it's okay but not a patch on Road Trip or last year's under-rated Super Troopers.
The tale begins when mild-mannered architect Mitch Martin (Luke Wilson) comes home early from a conference to discover his beloved girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) is secretly a swinger who holds orgies with people she meets on the internet. Newly single, Mitch moves into a house on the edge of the local university campus, which pleases his two best friends Beanie (Vince Vaughn) and Frank (Will Ferrell). Beanie is a bullish alpha-male who runs a successful hi-fi store but has mixed feelings about his wife and kids. Frank is an ex-party animal who's mellowed, has just got married and is preparing to settle down in suburbia. Both men still pine for the carefree days of drinking beer and chasing girls so they grab the opportunity to use Mitch's new home as a bachelor pad for holding parties and meeting college chicks. When the mean-spirited dean of students (Jeremy Piven) tries to evict Mitch, they improvise by applying to make the building a frat house, its members being guys like themselves who wouldn't normally get the chance to live like John Belushi.
There's a better movie to be made about the very real social phenomenon the film highlights. We're told by popular culture that being young is everything, that life peaks in your school and student years and that adult life equals boredom so it's no wonder that we drag our youth out as long as we can. For guys in particular, living in a society where there's no real need to mature, there's not much incentive to get past the lad stage. Old School starts promisingly and does make some stabs at showing why the guys want to escape back to adolescence. Later there are scenes where reality intrudes into these mens' fantasy lives, such as Frank's marriage collapsing and Beanie having to face actually living out his college girl sex fantasy, but ultimately the movie seems to endorse what they're doing. In fact, just as real-life fight clubs sprang up after the release of the David Fincher movie, I wouldn't be surprised to hear news stories about middle-aged men starting frat houses after seeing this.
What we're left with is just another college comedy, but with adults instead of teenagers. Not that there's anything wrong with dumb humour when it's energetic and funny but too much of it is second rate and about as fresh as the Duran Duran and Whitesnake songs on the soundtrack. The "old guys at college" premise was done before and better by Rodney Dangerfield in Back To School and the "fun-loving frat guys hassled by nasty dean" subplot unwisely invites comparisons with the daddy of the genre, National Lampoon's Animal House. Opportunities for big laughs are missed or rushed through, like the mens' cheerleading display and gymnastics routine, the latter performed by Vince Vaughn with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
The two main reasons to see the film are Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Vaughn is excellent as a testosterone-fuelled entrepeneur who never misses a chance to plug his store and tells his small children to cover their ears before outlining his plans to cheat on their mother. The actor specialises in playing the kind of people you'd hide from in real life but can't turn your eyes away from onscreen and he has moments here as funny and scary as his work in Swingers and Made. A great film could have been based around this performance. Ferrell's a Saturday Night Live regular who's had small roles in a lot of comedies and he's a revelation as a Jekyll and Hyde suburbanite who can't control his inner teenager. He even finds some genuine pathos in the character. But while Vaughn and Ferrell make the most of their parts, the amiable Luke Wilson is stuck with an impossible role. Mitch is a sweet, regular guy who falls for a single mother, longs for a quiet life... and also happens to live a frat house, wrestle girls in KY-jelly, tie concrete blocks to peoples' penises and sleep with his boss's jailbait daughter. The script supplies no logical reason why he goes along with his friends, other than the movie needed a hero who's nicer than Frank and Beanie. They went too far - Mitch is so nice, he's in the wrong film.