Film Reviews: Wednesday, February 20, 2003
My Big Frat Greek Pledging

Good performancescan’t keep Old Schoolfrom being old news.


There’s a scene early on in Old School where the main character, Mitch (Luke Wilson), has just drowned his sorrows in a night of drunken sex with a girl (Elisha Cuthbert) whom he met at a party. As she leaves, they agree that the previous night was a one-time, casual encounter and that they’ll be cool about it, because they’ll never see each other again. At this point, my filmgoing reflexes kicked into gear, as multiple scenarios flashed through my mind as to how the sex would come back to bite Mitch in the ass, so to speak — she’s got an STD, she’s his boss’ daughter, she’s in high school, she’s got a crazy jealous boyfriend. Sure enough, more than one of those things turned out to be true. The audience at the sneak preview roared when it was revealed, but I saw it coming all the way. So it was with too many of the jokes in this latest frat-boy comedy.

Mitch’s one-night stand is precipitated by his coming home to his girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) unexpectedly early, only to find her in bed with another man and another woman. No sooner does he move into a new house than the nearby university suddenly re-designates it as campus housing and gives him notice to clear the premises. He and his friends, Frank (Will Ferrell) and Beanie (Vince Vaughn), decide to do an end-run around the regulations by starting their own fraternity, despite the fact that they’re all in their mid-30s. Soon, they’ve attracted not only the university’s outcast students looking to join, but also a gaggle of older men longing to relive their pasts.

This movie does have some very big, genuine laughs, and it owes those to its supporting actors, not its material. Ferrell gets cast as the guy who lives the beer-guzzling life to the nth degree, and the actor responds with some choice bits — his tearful rendition of “Dust in the Wind” may be as funny as anything he’s ever done. The manic Ferrell is perfectly complemented by Vaughn, who gets the best showcase for his weirdo comic timing since Swingers. The sillier the proceedings get, the more deadly serious Vaughn becomes. Watching his grim, determined performance of a cheerleading routine is both uproarious and unsettling. Like Christopher Walken, he’s much creepier in the context of a dum-dum comedy than he is as a conventional bad guy in stuff like Psycho and Domestic Disturbance. This is definitely something he should do more often.

Sadly, the movie cops out by putting the bland Mitch at the center of the action, and Wilson brings little to this party. The filmmakers seem to dimly realize that there’s something sad about guys going to such extremes to regress to their college days, but they never run with the idea. They’re too busy setting up predictable gags about hazing and mean college administrators and attractive women (and unattractive men) getting naked. That’s too bad, because with Vaughn and Ferrell, Old School could have been better than what it winds up as, which is a copy of every other frat-boy comedy since Animal House.

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