School For Scoundrels

Despite the name and the similar central premise, this updated School For Scoundrels bears about as much similarity to the original 1960 movie as Russell Brand does to a comedian. The story is generally the same. Nice guy Roger — in this instance Napoleon Dynamite’s Jon Heder — gets nowhere due to being nice. Nice guy decides to do something about it. Nice guy gets taught the way of the bounder. Nice guy gets one over on love rival. Nice guy gets the girl.

The main difference is that the original — based on Stephen Potter’s Oneupmanship series of books — relied on a certain naïve charm and the contrast between Ian Carmichael as the nice guy, Terry-Thomas as his caddish rival and Alastair Sim as the teacher. This modern interpretation is told in broader terms — yeah, we mean knob gags — and combines the Terry-Thomas / Sim role into one character: the mysterious Dr. P, played by Billy Bob Thornton.

Having taught Roger how to stop being royally screwed by all and sundry, Roger becomes the star pupil… and that piques Dr. P’s competitive streak. So Dr. P he sets his sights on Amanda (Jacinda Barrett), the object of Roger’s affections. And, while he’s at it, he’s going to infiltrate and destroy Roger’s life. Roger’s options are fight or flee and he takes the former option. Which is just as well, as the latter wouldn’t have made much of a film. Some will argue that the former doesn’t make much of a film either and they’re not wrong. This is not a substantial, buy-it-on-DVD-and-watch-it-again comedy. This is a well-if-it’s-on-it’ll-pass-an-hour-or-two comedy. There are some good moments – Heder’s interaction with his boss (Luis Guzman) and, particularly, an uncredited Ben Stiller as a former star pupil previously broken by Dr P, provide some big laughs. But you’ll be pushed to remember why the second the credits run.

Still, there’s always a place for a dumb popcorn comedy and at least director Todd Phillips has no pretensions that his simple film is anything more than that. They appear to have been aiming for three-out- of-five from the get go. They’ve succeeded.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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