Occasionally (very occasionally) co-writer and director Todd Phillips stumbles into a slight (very slight) snicker in "Old School," an otherwise deplorably inept comedy about unhappy, 30-something losers trying to recapture their youth by belatedly starting a college fraternity.
Juliette Lewis garners a few weak grins in an opening-scene cameo as the promiscuous live-in girlfriend of Luke Wilson -- the movie's central loser. It's her half-baked apology, after he walks in on a blindfold-centric threesome in their bedroom, which prompts him to move to his own place half a block from a university campus.
He's joined by two buddies also made miserable by the women in their lives -- "Saturday Night Live"-spawned one-trick geek Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn, who plays a charmless, potbellied soccer-dad version of his smug "Swingers" persona -- and it isn't long before these two resolve to turn their Wilson's new pad into the party-hardy frat for the nearby campus.
A few cheap snickers here and there (Ferrell gets drunk and goes streaking) can't begin to make up for the movie's structureless script, feeble direction and half-hearted yet ham-fisted acting.
For no discernable reason they don't look for pledges among the student body, instead recruiting a supposedly wacky cross-section of emaciated old men, fat minorities and bald middle-agers whose desire to be in a fraternity is never explained in any way. They go up against the angry-nerd school dean (the normally funny Jeremy Piven, completely wasted here) who is determined to destroy them, for no explored reason. And they host keggers for the college kids and sleep with underage girls (or at least Wilson does, by accident).
Any characters or events that might pass for plot come and go seemingly at random -- like a "true" romance for Wilson, in the form of the adorable Ellen Pompeo ("Moonlight Mile"). Playing a girl he'd had a crush on in high school, she just shows up at the frat one day out of the blue, then disappears for an entire reel, then resurfaces with a transparently philandering boyfriend (talk show host Craig Kilborn in what may be the worst acting performance in recent film history), whom she later dumps in a slapdash off-screen plot development meant to free her up for our hero.
Wilson, Ferrell and Vaughn sleepwalk through their colorless roles as a inconsequential nice guy, a raging idiot, and a jerk -- none of whom have any consistency. Wilson begins the film very much against turning his house into a frat -- but literally overnight he's gleefully hazing new pledges (private parts are tied to cinder blocks which are then thrown off rooftops).
Most of the dialogue wouldn't pass muster in a porno movie (nor would most of the sight-gag supporting performances). Continuity is non-existent (one outdoor conversation between Wilson and Pompeo has completely different weather in each close-up). The entire picture is driven by paltry, unrelated one-punch-line jokes (e.g. Andy Dick appearing as a fey fellatio coach giving lessons to Ferrell's wife, who is otherwise absent from the plot).
And all of this somehow leads up to the dean putting the frat members through an aimless and arbitrary series of tests (math, debate, physical education, school spirit) hoping to get their charter revoked through some transparently contrived campus rule.
Director Phillips ("Road Trip") and writing partner Scot Armstrong obviously imagine they're following in the footsteps of "Animal House." But while that flick is a lowbrow classic, "Old School" goes so far beyond hackneyed, laughless, tiresome incompetence that it may be one of the most unwatchable movies I've seen in 11 years as a film critic.
Run time: 91 mins
In Theaters: Friday 21st February 2003
Box Office USA: $74.6M
Box Office Worldwide: $75.2M
Distributed by: DreamWorks SKG
Production compaines: DreamWorks SKG, The Montecito Picture Company
Rotten Tomatoes: 60%
Fresh: 100 Rotten: 67
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Todd Phillips
Starring: Luke Wilson as Mitch Martin „The Godfather“, Will Ferrell as Frank "The Tank“, Vince Vaughn as Beanie, Ellen Pompeo as Nicole, Leah Remini as Lara Campbell, Elisha Cuthbert as Darcie, Jeremy Piven as Dean Gordon "Cheese" Pritchard, Juliette Lewis as Heidi, Sarah Shahi as Erica, Perrey Reeves as Marissa Jones, Craig Kilborn as Mark, Ashley Jones as Caterer, Phe Caplan as Julie
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