Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, David Wain’s former cohorts in influential sketch-comedy troupe The State, may have sold out long ago, penning such family-friendly hits as The Pacifier and Night at the Museum to subsidize their absurdist Comedy Central series Reno 911!, but until now Wain himself had remained steadfastly outside of the mainstream, directing the cult classic Wet Hot American Summer and recent indie comedy The Ten. With Role Models, he changes all that, crafting a thoroughly audience-friendly movie, a predictable, formulaic buddy comedy with a feel-good message.
That’s not inherently a bad thing, and Wain and co-writers Ken Marino and Paul Rudd (reworking a script by Timothy Dowling and William Blake Herron) pack a few offbeat jokes into the tired tale of party-hardy slacker Wheeler (Scott) and embittered cynic Danny (Rudd), who work for an energy-drink company pimping sugary beverages to kids. One day Danny gets fed up with the whole thing and crashes their car into a school’s mascot statue. Facing 30 days in jail, the pair instead end up with community service at a Big Brothers Big Sisters-like organization run by an unhinged ex-drug addict (Jane Lynch, stealing many a scene).
Wheeler gets stuck with pint-sized trash-talker Ronnie (Thompson), while Danny has to mentor teenage uber-nerd Augie (Mintz-Plasse, Superbad’s McLovin). Of course the two of them initially want nothing to do with the project, and of course by the end of the movie they come to love the kids, value their friendship with each other and turn their lives around. Along the way, there are a handful of funny moments, along with plenty of State alums in small roles, but compared to Wain’s previous efforts Role Models is muted and tame. Scott and Rudd do slight variations on their familiar personas, and the two kids play up one trait each. The movie never dips into crass or puerile territory, but it never offers up anything inspired, either, and from a man who’s spent his career as a writer, director and performer doing nothing but pushing the envelope, that’s a big disappointment.