Role Models

“I’d like a large coffee, please.”

“You mean a Venti.”

“No, a large.”

“A Venti is a large, sir.”

“No, Venti means twenty. A tall is a large. “Grande” means large, and that’s the only word of the three that’s actually Italian. So congratulations, you’re stupid in three languages.”

This is not the exchange of a happy man. Danny, played by Paul Rudd, in the comedy “Role Models,” wears sarcasm like a tailored hair shirt. As someone will say of him later: “You hate yourself, but you still think you’re better than everyone else.”

Unfortunately, Danny’s girlfriend Beth, Elizabeth Banks, is watching all this. Danny is miserable, she yells. He’s been getting more miserable each of the seven years they’ve been together. And she’s through with him making HER miserable. In fact, she discovers, she’s just through.

To add insult to injury, today is also Danny’s ten-year anniversary at work, where he has languished as a spokesman for Minotaur, an energy drink company. He drives around between elementary schools in a monster truck made up like a steam-snorting bull, with Wheeler, played by Sean William Scott. Danny: “We’re selling poison to kids at $6 a bottle, then telling them to stay off drugs.” Wheeler: “But it’s good for them. It’s got juice.” Never mind that chugging Minotaur, just to survive another day, makes Danny and Wheeler pee bright green.

When Danny, having the worst day of his life, finally loses it, and intentionally drives his truck shaped like a bull into a statue of a horse, he and Wheeler are sentenced to 150 hours of community service, playing big brother to little kids. That, or they can go to jail.

What we have here are two men who don’t get it. Danny judges himself by somebody else’s impossible yardstick of success. Wheeler is an arrested adolescent, a scruffy, blonde, built California dude who aspires to nothing more than laying every pretty girl he sees, which he does with startling efficiency. (Lest you think Wheeler’s erotic efficacy is unrealistic, I’ve seen it happen right under my nose, usually when I was interested in the girl myself.)

The fact is, most of us, romantically, are plodding Dannys, not Wheelers. But at least we’re not Augie Farks, right? He’s the kid with whom Danny gets matched. Augie wears a cape everywhere he goes. He’s the kind of kid that even the nerds won’t eat lunch with. Played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who was the equally goofy-looking McLovin in “Superbad,” you take one look at him and want to buy him contacts and sign him up for soccer. Anything.

Danny and Wheeler are so utterly ill-equipped to deal with their little charges, the movie is a gold mine of hilariously inappropriate adult/child relations. It’s also surprisingly sentimental, even touching. AND it’s refreshingly raunchy, somewhat of a throwback to post-”Animal House” 1980s exploitation comedies.

The film takes us deep inside Augie’s incredibly rarefied world of Live Action Role Playing, where weird adults and kids dress up like knights and ladies and talk in iambic pentameter while pretending to cut each others’ arms off with foam swords. The genius of the director and screenwriter, David Wain (he made the geek-loving, underestimated “Wet Hot American Summer”), is to discover that these people are aware of how silly they are, but they’re having way too much fun to care.

The most wonderful thing about “Role Models” – and a LOT of it is wonderful, if contrived – is that it understands that the truly pathetic aren’t the nerds, who are perfectly normal kids who are probably going to grow up to get the girl and make twice as much money as the “in” crowd. The sad ones are those who need to feel better about themselves by looking down on others. By the end, Danny has discovered that he’s a closet nerd; and if you haven’t admitted that to yourself yet, maybe you’ll think twice when you see him land Elizabeth Banks.

Peter Noble Kuchera

Originally from Columbus, Indiana, Peter moved to Bloomington in 1998. He completed four years of film study at the University of Minnesota and two years of film production in the Film Cities in St. Paul. He began reviewing movies for WFIU in 2003 and began producing on-air fundraising spots for WTIU in 2006. In 2008 he received a second place award for Best Radio Critic at the Los Angeles Press Club’s First Annual National Entertainment Journalism Awards in 2008. Peter passed away suddenly on June 8, 2009.

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