School For Scoundrels

School For Scoundrels


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Roger (Jon Heder) is a gawky, gangly, goofy antihero. In fact, you couldn't get much antier than this cry baby. He is called a loser (to his face); he is a virgin; he doesn’t have a girlfriend – yet.

This is the story of how Roger goofgawkganglies himself onto the winning side, learns how to fight back, makes new buddies and actually kisses an Australian (Jacinda Barrett). And it’s all because of Dr P (Billy Bob Thornton).

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There is nothing wrong with the concept, oh-so-roughly based on Stephen Potter’s One-Upmanship books and the 1960 film, starring Ian Carmichael. Dr P runs a secretive, exclusive, unadvertised assertiveness course for wimps and no-hopers in a sleazy room in a rundown office block in New York. His teaching method is to insult his students into positive, even angry, responses. “From this point on, you are all lions,” he announces, after telling them earlier that they were lower than rats’ droppings.

Defect One: prospective students are asked to bring $5000 in cash in a vanilla envelope before registering for this smooth-talking sadist’s six-week course. Who in their right mind would part with that kind of money without knowing the first thing about the mysterious doctor, or his dubious technique? Also, his sidekick/bodyguard/second in command/sexual deviant threat is Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan), a massive black man, who makes King Kong look friendly.

Defect Two: Dr P’s methods may be unconventional and probably illegal, but he gets results (of a sort). Why change direction half way through and make him out to be nothing less than a cheap conman?

Defect Three: why be so unimaginative as to do what every other Hollywood comedy does these days and call up Ben Stiller for an unfunny cameo role?

Defect Four: why make the love interest so sensible, understanding, normal and dull? Her roommate (Sarah Silverman) is positively electric by comparison, but then she’s a raving neurotic.

Defect Five: why are the other students so uninspiring? Oh yes, of course… that’s the point.

Defect Six: how do you make a movie about losers that isn’t a loser itself?

Defect Seven: Lesher. He should be locked up, or playing the lead in Candyman 4: The Nightmare Gives Birth.

Dr P tells Roger, “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who run shit, like me, and those who eat shit, like you.”

It has to be said, Billy Bob is on form. He lifts the film from a stereotypical nerd-com to a dangerous satire that becomes so diluted in an effort to erase the anti from Roger’s CV that it sells out to Momma Nice.

Heder has grown up since Napoleon Dynamite, but not in a good way. He shouldn’t try to be sympathetic, or take his shirt off. Someone might think, bring back Rick Moranis.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2007
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Dr P's assertiveness course encourages a manic response from its low-grade losers.
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Director: Todd Phillips

Writer: Todd Phillips, Scot Armstrong, influenced by the 1960 screenplay by Patricia Moyes and Hal E Chester, based on the novel by Stephen Potter

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Heder, Jacinda Barrett, Matt Walsh, Horatio Sanz, Todd Louiso, Michael Clarke Duncan, Sarah Silverman, Joanne Baron, Ben Stiller, David Cross, Luis Guzman

Year: 2006

Runtime: 100 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US


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