Friday, June 5, 2020

Old School [Unrated Special Edition]

These days it seems as though Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, and Luke Wilson have always been movie stars, so it may be worth mentioning that it was as recent a film as 2003's "Old School" that put them all on the map as genuine big-screen names. Of course, Ferrell's being a lead on "Saturday Night Live" for a number of years didn't hurt him in terms of name recognition. His co-stars in "Old School," Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn, needed a little less introduction to movie audiences, though, having been around in major films for some years previous. In any case, the presence of all three men in the same movie and the Blu-ray high-definition transfer are the primary saving graces of "Old School," since the story line is thin and the gags are mostly sparse and derivative.

"Old School" is basically a character study of three adults in their early thirties wanting to relive their youth, perhaps with a touch of remorse for a way of life they can never recover. As a character piece, the movie allows Wilson, Ferrell, and Vaughn the opportunity to do what they do best, which is to create personalities we come to know and appreciate. It isn't so much what these fellows actually do in the movie that's funny as it is how they behave while they're doing it, how they deliver their lines, how they interact with one another.

The plot involves Wilson, Ferrell, and Vaughn as three buddies who start their own fraternity in a college town. Ostensibly, they start the organization to save the house they're living in from being taken over by the school, but really it's because the story wants us to see that they are trying to regain something they feel they've lost--their youthful freedom.

Wilson plays Mitch Martin, a real-estate lawyer whose girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) goes off in a different direction than he does, and they split up. Single again, he finds a house for lease near the town's college campus. Meanwhile, Will Ferrell plays Frank "the Tank" Ricard, a newly married man whose new wife soon throws him out of the house. So he asks Mitch if he can stay with him for a while. Vaughn plays the third buddy, Beanie Campbell, the owner of a chain of Speaker City stores and a solid family man. Solid, that is, until he finds out that his friends are now baching it and rooming together. This makes him long for the old days, so he starts to hang out with them most evenings.

No sooner do they all settle in to the new house than disaster strikes. Gordon Prithard (Jeremy Piven), the nerdy little brother of one of their high school friends--the little brother they called "Cheese" and gave a bad time years before--has grown up to become the dean of the college. And when he learns that his old nemesises from high school are now living in a house near campus, he plots revenge. He has the building re-zoned for student housing only, which in short order forces our heroes to try to turn the place into an authorized frat house in order to remain there. From that point on, you can guess the consequences.

Wild parties, loud music, drinking, streaking, mud wrestling, the screenwriters include in their script all the kind of things so beloved in "Animal House." Indeed, if you haven't seen "Animal House," you might not see how many connections there are with that classic, raucous campus picture. However, I've read that the film's director, Todd Phillips ("Road Trip," "Starsky & Hutch"), was really referencing in "Old School" was "Fight Club." Don't ask me; the ties are pretty slim.

Mitch is the only sensible one in the trio of friends, the Mr. Nice Guy. Indeed, he usually plays the straight man to the other two because the others are slightly nuts. Vaughn's character, as expected, is the fast-talking leader of the group, the one who thinks up the frat-house idea. And Ferrell's character is pretty sweet and relaxed until he's downed a beer or two, and then he becomes a wild man. He is also the funniest of the trio; the several times I laughed out loud, they involved Ferrell.

Piven's character is the designated villainous snake, but he's nowhere near as remarkable a scoundrel as Dean Wormer (John Vernon) was in "Animal House." Which is perhaps part of the problem of "Old School." Not only isn't "Old School" outrageous enough, it doesn't include the same number of memorable characters that "Animal House" did. It's a shame that a viewer has to make comparisons, but, after all, the screenwriters invite them by making their film so much like the earlier (and better) movie.