Old School
review by Nicholas Schager, 21 February 2003

The title Old School doesn’t just refer to its story, which follows the antics of three moronic thirty-somethings who decide to start up a college fraternity; it also unintentionally highlights the film’s considerable derivativeness. From the film’s sexually-charged yuks to its perfunctory romance and Animal House-style college conflicts between wild and crazy party monsters and stuffy, obnoxious administrators bent on shutting down their fun, everything about the film is recycled for your viewing pleasure – even director Todd Phillips has mined similar territory before with his last film, Road Trip. But if its “us versus the world” plot is groan-inducingly unoriginal, the film is blessed with a trio of funnymen, headlined by the uproariously scene-stealing Will Ferrell, who seem hell-bent on breathing life into this stale and paper-thin premise. It’s not Crime and Punishment – heck, it’s not even on par with the Cliff Notes for Dostoyevsky’s classic – but, as long as you don’t think too much and allow the laughs to carry you along, Old School is an amusing slice of numbskulled cinematic fluff.

Written by Phillips and Scot Armstrong, one can imagine the film’s screenplay being written in between bouts of bong hits and beer funnel contests. Mitch (Luke Wilson) is a mild-mannered real estate agent who comes home early from a business trip to find his live-in girlfriend Heidi (Juliette Lewis) hosting a gang bang. Uninterested in signing up for her sexually adventurous lifestyle, Mitch moves into a place directly next to the local college campus, and his friends – smart-alecky Beanie (Vince Vaughn) and recently married Frank (Will Ferrell) – promptly throw him a huge bash (featuring a Snoop Dogg performance) that’s so popular that the three guys attract the negative attention of the school’s Dean Pritchard (Jeremy Piven, in an about-face from his PCU days). Pritchard rezones Mitch’s house so that it now falls under the college’s control, meaning that unless the residence is used for social services or student housing, Mitch will have to give up his new place. In one of many gleefully nonsensical plot twists, Beanie decides that the best way to prevent Mitch from having to move is to establish a fraternity based out of the house, and he promptly courts a pledge class comprised of a motley crew of anonymous students and out-of-place adults that include a middle-aged Asian businessman and an eager geezer named Blue (Patrick Cranshaw).

Most of this expository stuff, however, serves as a weak excuse for the film’s performers to have some fun acting like idiots, and there’s no doubt that Old School has its fair share of inspired gags, most of them revolving around former SNL standout Ferrell. Affectionately known as “Frank the Tank” for his hard-drinking college reputation, Frank has now settled down with his ordinary wife Marissa (Perrey Reeves). Before Mitch’s housewarming party, Marissa begs her hubby not to drink, and the reason for her request soon becomes painfully clear – one drink leads the man down a binge-drinking spiral that culminates with him jogging down the town’s quiet suburban center with nothing but his birthday suit on. A healthy portion of Ferrell’s shtick has a nudity component to it, and viewers will undoubtedly get an acute sense of the contours of his derričre by film’s conclusion, but his performance’s lunacy derives mainly from the fits of unbridled rage that burst forth from his otherwise meek demeanor. It’s hard to stifle a smile when Frank, at a serene birthday party for Beanie’s son, begins the festivities by screaming at Blue to drop and give him twenty push-ups, and finishes off the get-together by accidentally shooting himself with an animal tranquilizer and, in a drugged stupor, slapping a few children before plummeting to the bottom of a swimming pool with the guest of honor’s presents in tow.

With Ferrell dominating every scene he’s in, Vaughn and Wilson are given less comedic ammunition to work with, but each nonetheless manages to fire off a few funny rounds. Vaughn’s Beanie has trained his child to cover his ears whenever his dad says “earmuffs,” thus providing him with a supposedly fool-proof (but, in reality, woefully stupid) method of protecting the kid from hearing the adult’s litany of curse words. Vaughn (Swingers, Made) is quickly making a career out of playing wiseasses, and his Beanie is the loudmouthed leader of the group, barking orders at his friends with the misguided arrogant assurance that he’s charting a proper course of action. Left as the straight man, Wilson’s Mitch is relatively bland, forced to whine a lot about his friends’ misbehavior, although the actor’s lackadaisical disposition is occasionally interrupted by flashes of zaniness, including a disastrous post-breakup bender at Frank’s wedding reception in which he attempts to vent his pent-up rage and frustration during his ceremonial toast.

That the film makes almost zero sense is besides the point; those worrying about what Frank’s job is, how Mitch’s nerdy co-workers find out about the fraternity, or why Mitch’s standard-issue love interest Nicole (Ellen Pompeo, who looks like a more sandy-haired Renée Zellweger) has any interest in the doofus will be flummoxed by the gaping holes in logic and narrative cohesion on display. But Phillips and company are only after some simple-minded male-centric hilarity (women play a nominal role at best) and, thanks to its bumbling triumvirate of charming comedians, Old School is a raunchy and raucous, if decidedly inane, fantasy of college glory days revisited.

Directed by:
Todd Phillips

Starring:
Will Farrell
Luke Wilson
Vince Vaughn
Juliette Lewis
Jeremy Piven

Written by:
Todd Phillips
Scot Armstrong

Rated:
R - Restricted.
Under 17 requires
parent or adult
guardian.

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