Director Todd Phillips hasn't veered too far from the subject of the documentary that gained him notice ("Frat House"), but at least he's still making something out of the genre. The director's "Road Trip" was a college comedy that was occasionally very funny due to the fact that the director created warm, funny characters; the jokes were even more effective as a result. "Old School" not only succeeds in crafting fine characters and offering some inspired jokes, but the casting of three stars with three very different styles of comedy also works.
Luke Wilson stars as Mitch Martin, a very average, middle-class guy who gets a nasty surprise when he returns home from a business trip to find his wife (Juliette Lewis) hosting a sex party. Mitch takes the opportunity to move out of the house and into a new place by the local University. His friends, Frank (Will Ferrell) and Beanie (Vince Vaughn) - who are also nearing 40 - push an idea on him - turn the place into a Frat House. Not just any frat house, though, but one for anyone young, old or even non-students. Meanwhile, the dean (Jeremy Piven) seeks to shut the place down.
"Old School" is formulaic and unapologetic about it, but the film still works because of several reasons. The casting of three very different leads works, as each of them have a different and appropriate way of reacting to the absurdity of the situations. Vaughn, playing a less edgy version of his "Swingers" character, gets plenty of laughs, as does Farrell, who gets more laughs in a performance a few steps more subdued than usual. As noted in the commentary, Phillips seems to have successfully encouraged his three leads to improvise, as well. Good casting choices extend to the supporting players, as well; Piven's good as the dean, while Elisha Cuthbert ("24") and Ellen Pompeo (wonderful in "Moonlight Mile") are good as love interests for Mitch.
"Old School" doesn't claim to be anything more than it is - a low-brow comedy; however, it often exceeded my expectations, as the jokes and situations were made fresh by a few tweaks to the formula and great performances by the three leads. Despite being the focus of only a few scenes, the romance between Pompeo and Wilson works because the two have good chemistry. Technically, the film is top-notch, with excellent cinematography by Mark Irwin and fine choices of music by music supervisor Randall Poster ("Royal Tenenbaums"). Another good effort from the "Road Trip" director, but I'd like to see what he can do outside of the college comedy.
Note:: This is the "Unrated" edition, clocking in at just under 92 minutes. The film's official running time is 90, so there seems to be only around a minute. I didn't see the film theatrically, so I don't know the differences, but the unrated edition is clearly unrated, given the fact that there's a clip with nudity playing on the main menu. "Old School" comes in widescreen and pan & scan unrated versions and a pan & scan rated version.
VIDEO: "Old School" is presented by Dreamworks in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Despite being a low-brow comedy, the movie uses cinematographer Mark Irwin, who has become famed for making comedies (see nearly all of the Farrelly Brothers movies) look visually interesting. Here he succeeds once again, with nice lighting and compositions. The transfer isn't entirely successful, but the picture quality remains generally decent throughout. Sharpness and detail are not remarkable, but are consistently above-average.
As for the flaws with the picture quality, it's mainly the presence of some unwelcome edge enhancement. It's noticable in several scenes and rather distracting, but it's absent during the majority of the movie. The print wasn't without a few flaws, either; while nothing serious, a couple of specks and marks were visible in a handful of scenes. Other flaws weren't spotted.
The film's color palette is natural and well-handled by the transfer, as no smearing or other flaws were noted. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked natural. This is only an average transfer, as it suffers from a few more flaws than I'd expect from a new movie. The layer change was noticable at 1:05:50.
SOUND: "Old School" is presented by Dreamworks in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. The film's soundtrack is purely a "comedy" presentation, with most of the audio coming from the front speakers. The surrounds provide some slight reinforcement for the music, but this film is mostly dialogue-driven. Audio quality is perfectly fine, with dynamic-sounding music and clear dialogue. English Dolby 2.0 and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks are also included. Subtitles in French/Spanish/English are offered, as well.
Commentary: Stars Will Farrell, Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson join director Todd Phillips for a feature-length audio commentary. The commentary is nearly as entertaining as the picture, as the three stars and the director have a lot of fun joking about situations in the movie and what happened on-set. There's a few bits of technical information thrown in here and there, but this is mostly just a fun track with the stars hanging out and not taking things seriously, having a good time joking about the picture.
Deleted Scenes: This section offers about 13 minutes of footage, with no optional commentary or explanation. There are some very funny moments here, so I'm guessing that these scenes were all deleted simply to keep the movie at a lean 90 minutes.
Inside the Actor's Studio Spoof: This is a 21-minute spoof of the "Inside the Actor's Studio" program, with Farrell playing host, interviewing Phillips, Vaughn, Wilson and himself. If you've seen Farrell's previous efforts as the character on "Saturday Night Live", you'll know what to expect. It's extraordinarily funny and almost brilliant at times, and all four of the interview participants look like they're about to break into laughter. Great, great stuff.
Also: A 13-minute "making of", 4 TV spots, 1 trailer, photo gallery, cast/crew bios and production notes.
Final Thoughts: "Old School" is a fun little comedy that's engaging because it's good-natured and yet still brings the raunchiness that one expects from the genre. Dreamworks has provided a DVD with lots of nice supplements, but average audio/video quality. Still, this is a very entertaining movie I'd recommend.
The Film ***