Buy this DVD at Amazon.com
“Jon Heder (‘Napoleon Dynamite’) and Billy Bob Thornton (‘Bad Santa’) face off in this devilishly funny comedy from writer/director Todd Phillips (‘Old School’).
When unlucky loser Roger (Heder) takes a confidence-building class taught by an ego-maniacal teacher (Thornton), the two are pitted in an outrageous battle to determine the ultimate guy’s guy. When the rivalry spirals out of control, no prank is too extreme, no insult is over the line, and nothing is off limits.”
“School for Scoundrels (Widescreen Unrated)” is not rated. The theatrical version is rated PG-13 for language, crude and sexual content, and some violence.
“School for Scoundrels” is one of those typical all-about-self-confidence romantic comedies, where the object of desire (in this case Jacinda Barrett) isn’t so much a character as a trophy of empowerment. It’s a formula comedy, which means it needs to be really funny to get over the fact that it’s not actually about anything, and despite several openings for really dark comedy, “School for Scoundrels” isn’t really funny. Occasionally chuckle-worthy, but that’s about it.
Dr. P is your basic confrontational specialist, using intimidation to scare his students into adapting more assertive personalities, based on the idea that nice guys really do finish last, and which would you rather be, nice or first? Dr. P is an in-your-face unrepentant jerk who is not at all above lying, cheating and stealing to manipulate a situation to his advantage. Thornton should be perfect, but apart from some of his speeches on manliness, he often seems bored.
Roger is a natural at Dr. P’s form of human interaction and quickly rises to the top of the class, eventually managing to score a date with his dream girl, who as typical for this type of movie has to come off as completely oblivious (until she’s not) without seeming stupid. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do and Barrett pulls it off decently enough. Heder also manages to be decently charming, only occasionally falling back into “Napoleon Dynamite” patterns, but does come off as weak next to the more experienced comedians, particularly Stiller.
When Dr. P starts chasing Amanda (Barrett) on his own, Heder turns to Lonnie (Ben Stiller), an old patient of Dr. P’s who went through something similar and has a score to settle with the good doctor and his psychopathic assistant Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan). Only Stiller and Duncan are consistently funny throughout and their scenes together are the best in the film. Unfortunately, there’s not very many of them.
“School for Scoundrels” has some solid opportunities for real dark comedy, but blows most of them for maudlin romantic-comedy tripe, and the ones it does go for it never takes far enough. It’s not bad, but it could have been better.
The DVD for “School for Scoundrels” doesn’t have all that many bonus features. There’s the standard commentary with the writer and director, a making of featurette, and a gag reel. The featurette is noteworthy for one thing it shows Thornton and Heder doing a scene together in character as Napoleon Dynamite and Carl from “Sling Blade.” That alone makes the DVD worth checking out. A number of the cast pick on Heder, too. Thornton says he didn’t see “Napoleon Dynamite” because he doesn’t watch French films. Rounding things out is an alternate ending. The result is the same, but it’s a little more realistic considering airport security.