Please note that “School for Scoundrels” (directed by Todd Philips) is a remake of the 1960 movie called “School for Scoundrels or How to Win Without Actually Cheating!”. Furthermore, that movie is based on books written by Stephen Potter. However, I know nothing about these, so for the rest of this review let’s just pretend they don’t exist, shall we? Okay then.
Roger (played by Jon Heder), the protagonist of our movie, is a mildly lovable yet entirely pathetic creature, with a life rife with self-help books and devoid of any form of meaning, or above all, happiness. He is lonely, in a sucky job, and has panic attacks at the slightest provocation. He does like the girl-next-door though (named Amanda and played Jacinda Barrett), and perhaps this keeps him going. It is unclear. But do we care? The answer, after the first few scenes, is “probably a little bit.”
Enter Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton), a callous rogue who teaches losers how to not be losers. He even has a henchman. Roger enrolls in his little class, thereby moving the plot along (without considerable thickening). We meet the other members of the class, who are colored in all different shades of loserliness. They are taught ways of overcoming their countless faults, methods so powerful despite their overwhelming triteness, that the members of the class cannot help but be improved, even just a little bit. And Roger’s goal of winning the heart of Amanda proceeds nicely, albeit not entirely plausibly. But oh no! Dr. P, insensitive man that he is, tries to steal her away. Bad Dr. P! Now Roger has no choice; he will just have to rise to the occasion and win Amanda back. And presumably, all that is happening along the way is funny, funny, funny.
Going into this movie and only having the trailer to guide me, I was afraid that the ratio of blows to the crotch to instances of Subtle Wit would be far greater than one. While it is much easier to enumerate blows to the crotch than to determine when there has been an instance of Subtle Wit, I think it would be fair to say that in this film, we are clearly in the crotch column.
But I should be more descriptive: some movies are really good comedies and some are mildly-funny-movies-that-you-are-entertained-by-while-watching-but-pretty-much-forget-about-after-you-leave. The classification of “School for Scoundrels” is left as an exercise to the reader. That being said, there are some amusing moments, mainly revolving around that nervous guy from “High Fidelity” (Todd Louiso), who I think is actually the hidden star of the movie.
In addition to “High Fidelity” guy, you might also recognize quite a number of other people in the cast. Which is fun to do, since it is like seeing old friends, but ones who happen to not know you at all. We have Jon Heder, who, in an Athena-like burst onto the scene, appeared from nowhere in “Napoleon Dynamite”. We also have Billy Bob Thornton, who was married in the Celebrity Paleolithic to Angelina Jolie. And during said marriage, they decided to wear vials of each other’s blood, to which the only proper response is: eww. In addition, there is that guy from “Arrested Development”, guy from “The Green Mile”, and Sarah Silverman.
In sum, “School for Scoundrels” has a known cast but is not fantastic. It might be good, if you are kind of tired and will laugh easily. But it probably will entertain you during certain intervals of its running time of 100 minutes. Although the guy who applauded at the end – I don’t know what he was thinking.