MOVIE REVIEW- Snoozer: Take No Doz to 'Scoundrels'

Call School for Scoundrels the School of Missed Opportunities, or maybe The Sting without zing. There are some hilarious moments here– and seeing it the night after Jackass Number Two, the humor seemed relatively mature (don't try the defibrillator stunt at home!); but the pace is too slow, the surprises too unsurprising, and Billy Bob Thornton, one of my favorite actors, practically sleepwalks through his part.

Although Thornton gets top billing the heavy lifting is left to Jon Heder, who gets nearly twice as much screen time. He plays Roger Waddell, a New York meter maid who gets no respect and goes through life with a victim mentality, having panic attacks when things are too much to deal with. It's a cold world, and Roger's in his underwear– and it's not thermal.

After Roger's dismissed as a Big Brother because none of the kids want to be around him, his friend Ian (David Cross) tells him about a secret class that can help him: "I know this guy and he runs this thing..." 

Roger brings his $5000 tuition to the first class with Dr. P (Thornton), which lasts about five minutes. Dr. P and his assistant, Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan), humiliate and intimidate the students to show them how much they need the course. For homework they have to initiate confrontations, all of which end badly, and then they get together for a paintball war.

When Roger begins to emerge as the alpha male of the class (which shows the sorry state of the rest of the students), Dr. P takes him under his wing but asserts his superiority: There are two types of men in this world– those who run sh*t, like me, and those who eat sh*t, like you." He gets Roger to confide his real reason for taking the class: his neighbor Amanda (Jacinda Barrett, disappointing after being so good in The Last Kiss).

From then on, it's a two-man war for Amanda's heart and other organs. Dr. P is the master, but Roger catches on quickly. Unfortunately, so does the audience. We know anything that befalls one guy is the other guy's fault, and we shouldn't believe anything either of them says or does.

Usually this kind of plot is made to work like a magic act, through misdirection. There should be so much happening so fast that the viewer doesn't have time to think, but in School for Scoundrels, one thing happens at a time at a very slow pace. You not only have time to figure out what's going on, but also to make a list of the groceries you'll pick up on the way home.

Ben Stiller appears as a former pupil who suffered the same treatment, showing that whenever a student does too well Dr. P feels a need to take him down. Sarah Silverman gets a couple of laughs as Becky, Amanda's bitchy roommate.

Some R-rated humor might have helped, but director and co-writer Todd Phillips (Road Trip, Old School) was probably contractually obligated to deliver a PG-13.

The source novel was previously filmed in England in 1960. I don't remember the earlier film and doubt anyone will remember this one 46 years hence.

That's all. Class– and movie– dismissed.