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The New School is "OLD SCHOOL"

It is a well-known fact that Comedies rarely win Oscars, but it is an outrage that this film did not prevail over Chicago. My first guess is that “Old School” is too funny. It may also be due to the fact that the film was released in March and this year’s Oscar eligibility ended last December. Nonetheless, it is unacceptable to me that this groundbreaking film has not been reviewed in this here paper.

America has contributed much to world culture: jazz, musical theatre, some other stuff. But nothing is as truly American as college comedy.

Asian cinema may be more impressionistic; Latin film may be more visceral; European films may be more cleverer; but in America we have excessive amounts of cheap beer to drink, authority figures to undermine, and fraternities to use as our vehicle. In the sarcastic “up the academy” tradition of “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “Revenge of the Nerds,” and “American Pie”, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, and Luke Wilson play three thirty-something guys who start a fraternity to reclaim their youth, and a deliver a new high-water mark: “Old School.”

The film opens in familiar enough territory: our protagonist, Mitch (Wilson) discovers his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) going outside their relationship for deviant sexual satisfaction, so he breaks up with her and moves into his own bachelor pad. Not far behind are his two college pals.

Frank (Ferrell) is recently married (in a scene worth the price of admission) to a woman who is trying to break him of his partying ways and get him to settle down. Beanie (Vaughn) is a smarmy, sarcastic, owner of an audio/video store chain, already burdened with wife and kids whom he loves but is ever pulled by his leering eye.

Beanie and Frank throw Mitch a party (Mitch-a-palooza) to get over his breakup, inviting all the nearby college students to an overabundant bash, complete with a brilliant cameo by a fine purveyor of another distinctly American art, Snoop-Doggy Dogg. Beanie’s earnest attempts to cheer Mitch up lead to the formation of the adult fraternity which comprises the superficial plot of the film. As the saying goes, hilarity ensues.

In due course, Mitch, Frank and Beanie have several pledges, host the cursory topless wrestling event (a la “Stripes”), and go on to face the inevitable Dean’s inquisition to avoid being kicked off of campus (like Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School”).

Those who are fans of Ferrell’s work from Saturday Night Live will recognize his penchant for goofy expressions and nakedness. He offers a genius turn involving exposure of the male posterior region, when Frank drinks too much and morphs into his college persona of “Frank-the-Tank” and goes streaking through town, only to be picked up by his wife (who is less than totally amused). That Frank goes on to shoot himself with a livestock tranquilizer gun in the midst of a pre-schooler’s birthday party is just icing. As I said, this film might be too funny, or maybe just too true for the Academy to handle.

It is Vaughn, in his finest role since the indie hit “Swingers,” who steals the show. True, he mugs for the camera, but what a mug. Wilson is a decent actor who lacks the comic timing of his older brother Owen (please see “Zoolander” please) and of the ensemble herein, but essentially his character Mitch is the straight man who escapes unscathed.

This film also has a brilliant pedigree. The executive producer, Ivan Reitman, produced “Animal House.” The director, Todd Phillips last wrote and directed “Road Trip” (a gem if you missed it) and previously the HBO documentary “Frat House.” They know the territory, and they milk it adequately.

The problem with relating comedy is that you cannot really explain it. If you have fond memories of John Belushi starting a food fight, then you will enjoy this film. If you have no idea to what that last sentence referred, go buy yourself a big tub of popcorn and a giant Coke, and go see this film. Welcome to America.

March 31, 2003
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