Josh Bell

Scoundrels follows sad-sack New York City parking enforcement officer Roger (Heder), who pines away for his beautiful neighbor Amanda (Jacinda Barrett). On the advice of his only friend, Roger enrolls in a mysterious class taught by the enigmatic Dr. P (Thornton), which promises to give him the tools he needs to turn his life around.

The shady, somewhat secretive culture of pick-up artists, immortalized in the recent bestseller The Game, seems like fertile ground for a dark comedy. But Dr. P isn't really like those gurus; he's more like a slightly meaner version of Dr. Phil, yelling at Roger and his fellow wimps to put their lives in order. Even worse, the movie isn't really about the class: Roger quickly and rather unconvincingly boosts his confidence enough to land a date with Amanda, and Dr. P decides that his protégé has learned a little too much and decides to move in on Amanda himself.

What follows should be a nasty battle of wits, but Phillips is either trying to convince audiences he's matured or just chafing under his PG-13 rating, and even the hit-and-miss vulgar humor of his previous films is absent, replaced instead by Heder and Thornton recycling past roles. Heder may be completely incapable of playing anything other than the sleepy, sarcastic weirdo he originated in Napoleon Dynamite, but Thornton is an actor with a great deal of range, and to see him repeating his performance from Bad Santa and Bad News Bears is just depressing.

Nobody seems to be putting much effort into this film, and Phillips wastes funny performers like Sarah Silverman, David Cross, The Daily Show's Matt Walsh and Best Week Ever's Paul Scheer in throwaway supporting roles. There was a manic energy to Phillips' previous films, but School for Scoundrels just dissipates in a puff of its own indifference.

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