The latest from director Todd Phillips ("Old School" and "Starsky and Hutch", the less said about the latter the better), "School For Scoundrels" stars "Napoleon Dynamite"'s Jon Heder as Roger, a NYC meter maid who's self confidence levels are dipping into the negative numbers. He's harassed at work by both criminals and co-workers, he can't even come close to asking his neighbor, Amanda (Jacinda Barrett) out on a date and the kid that he's a Big Brother to wants a new Big Brother.
With nowhere else to turn, he decides to enroll in a class taught by the mysterious Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton), whose role it is to work geeks, nerds, wimps and other various folks who haven't had the best of luck into fighting shape. Through a series of insults, tests (the most bizarre one requiring the class to start a random confrontation with someone at a certain time) and, that all-important male ritual, paintball.
Soon enough, Roger's managed to gain some confidence in himself, and even finds himself standing up to Dr. P. However, his true confidence will be tested when the doctor finds out about Roger's neighbor and sets his sights on getting her for himself. Roger has other obstacles in the way, as well, namely Amanda's bitchy roommate (Sarah Silverman, in the Sarah Silverman role.)
"School for Scoundrels" has a good premise, but the picture's main issue is that it simply never gets dark enough, and the battle between Roger and Dr. P for Amanda isn't as funny as it should be. That's not to say that this movie doesn't have some amusing moments - few things I've seen recently are as amusing as the site of Heder rolling along in a little meter maid cart with DMX blasting on the soundtrack - but they're a bit too few-and-far-between.
Heder manages to create a likable character and actually portrays the change from geek to semi-confident pretty well. Although it's still hard to not see Napoleon Dynamite, Heder's performance here is one of the actor's better efforts. Thornton has always seemed to enjoy the chance to play the bad guy, as this character is no different, as Thornton's portrayal of the darker side of the character is enjoyably twisted. Michael Clarke Duncan also has some amusing moments as Dr. P's assistant. The heart of the picture is Barrett, whose warm presence and sweetness makes an underwritten role memorable. Silverman has always played the mean "sidekick" well enough to get some dark laughs, but she's just genuinely annoying here.
"School For Scoundrels" isn't without some laughs, but the film's inability to choose whether to be a romantic comedy or a lowbrow dark comedy (and this could have been a really strong dark comedy version of "The Game" - which Sandler's "Anger Management" failed at being) makes it suffer and the material just doesn't get a good laugh often enough. Overall, not bad - but certainly not quite what it could have been.
The unrated edition adds an extra 6 minutes. Since I didn't see the film theatrically, I'm not sure where the new footage in, but nothing stood out as particularly "racy" or what one would traditionally consider "unrated"-style bonus footage.
VIDEO: "School For Scoundrels" is presented by Genius Products in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. There's nothing too remarkable about this transfer, but there aren't any serious issues, either. Sharpness and detail remained reasonable, as the picture looked a tad soft at times, but usually crisp. Some minor artifacting and edge enhancement was spotted, but no print flaws were seen. Colors looked a bit smeary in a few dimly-lit scenes, but otherwise looked fine.
SOUND: The film is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. This is a pure "comedy mix" - dialogue-driven and with little in the way of surround use, aside from a few moments where the rear speakers reinforce the music. Audio quality is fine, with clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: A commentary from director Todd Phillips and writer Scott Armstrong, as well as an alternate ending that really doesn't work, the trailer, a funny gag reel and a better-than-average 19-minute "making of" documentary that has some amusing moments as the cast pokes fun at each other and riffs on making the film.
Final Thoughts: "School For Scoundrels" isn't without some laughs, but the film's inability to choose whether to be a romantic comedy or a lowbrow dark comedy (and this could have been a really good comedy version of "The Game" had the filmmakers chosen to take the concept all the way) makes it suffer and the material just doesn't get a good laugh often enough. Overall, not bad - but certainly not quite what it could have been. The DVD presentation offers fine audio/video quality and a few extras. Rent it (although it must be noted that the film is a Blockbuster exclusive in terms of rentals for an unknown length of time.)
The Film C+