Paul Rudd is one of the greater comedic actors at work today, but his efforts as a leading man have not been all that great. His work as a supporting player in the Judd Apatow comedies and, most notably, as a casual murderer in Wet Hot American Summer is some of the funniest stuff put to celluloid this decade--but most of the movies in which he's had a larger role have been less than stellar.
Rudd is on comedic fire in Role Models, the latest effort from his Wet Hot American Summer director David Wain (who also directed Rudd in the surprisingly bad The Ten). Rudd is always best when playing a grumpy jerk, and here, he gets an entire film in which to do that. Seann William Scott, an actor with lots of comic potential, also gets a nice opportunity to shine.
As Danny Donahue, a belligerent rep for Minotaur, a bad-tasting energy drink, Rudd finds the role he's always deserved. Traveling from school to school telling kids to drink Minotaur instead of taking drugs, Danny is a miserable bastard. He picks verbal fights with nearly everybody he encounters, much to the dismay of his girlfriend, Beth (Elizabeth Banks), who finally gets fed up with him after his confrontation with a barista. This combination of girl trouble and job dissatisfaction results in some law-breaking and a community-service sentence. His Minotaur partner and eager friend Wheeler (Scott) was present for the crime and receives the same sentence.
The two are required to mentor kids--or else serve time in jail. Danny is assigned to Augie Farks (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka Fogell from Superbad), who has an unhealthy obsession with medieval fantasy role-play. Wheeler gets Ronnie (Bobbe J. Thompson), a foul-mouthed terror who accuses Wheeler of attempted molestation within seconds of meeting him.
Watching Rudd in angry mode is comic nirvana, whether he's tearing down a woman who insists on calling a large coffee a venti, or he's admitting that because he's a white guy, he just might be Ben Affleck. His anger is the sort of coiled, sarcastic frustration that very few comedians can pull off. Rudd's Danny is a terrible guy, but you can't help but root for him, because his putdowns are so intelligently and eloquently delivered. Because Rudd also possesses decent dramatic-acting chops, his character's eventual deliverance from the dark side is convincing and moving, in a ridiculous sort of way.
Scott has been in his share of duds, but he makes up for at least a few of them with his work here. Wheeler is perhaps a tad like Stifler from American Pie, but not nearly as mischievous. He's a lady-killer, but he's also susceptible to slaps from little kids, and he gets into trouble mostly because he's in the passenger seat of Danny's car. Scott is on a little roll with this and his good work in The Promotion opposite John C. Reilly.
Mintz-Plasse proves he's no one-hit wonder with his portrayal of Augie; he has now played two very different types of epic nerds. His conquering speech during a fantasy-sword battle--complete with a hilarious Marvin Hamlisch reference--is a crowning achievement.
Thompson, at the ripe old age of 12, is a master of profanity. I haven't laughed this hard laughing at a cursing kid since Tanner Boyle in The Bad News Bears.
Wain, a graduate of both The State and Stella, gets back to form after The Ten. He shows an ability to handle ensemble acting while retaining his eye for the bizarre. The relationships in this movie feel sincere, and when the film veers off into outrageous territory (like fantasy role-playing), it still feels balanced. Fans of Wet Hot American Summer will very much appreciate this film's camping sequence. Let's hope he directs another film with Rudd in his cast very soon.