The only real problem with Old School is that it shows way more of Will Ferrell’s flabby backside than anyone really needs to see. Other than that, it’s a laugh-out-loud riot that balances out its rampant crassness with about as much intelligence as you’d really need or want out of a comedy such as this.
Much like his 2000 film Road Trip, director / co-writer Todd Phillips tosses in a bit of relationship commentary amid the raunch. In that film, it said perhaps some high school romances are best left behind there. Here, it’s that marriage, or anything long-term for that matter, shouldn’t force you to compromise your personality.
Of course, said lesson is best showcased in a scene when Ferrell’s Frank, after an untold number of beers at a kegger where he has promised his wife he won’t drink, is caught streaking in the middle of town by his better half. Even if it’s barely there, the scene has that subtext to it that marriage just might not be right for a guy like Frank. As dumb as it is, and it’s mostly moronic, Old School is a comedy written with the knowledge that a joke’s crudeness alone isn’t a guarantee it’s worth a laugh.
On paper, the film’s premise is good enough to draw a chuckle — three thirtysomething guys starting their own fraternity with no other aim than to throw wild parties and ogle attractive women. But its execution is funnier, thanks largely to the way Ferrell’s explicit comedy clashes with the droll wit of its other stars, Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn.
Here, Vaughn downshifts from his over-the-top turns in Swingers and Made to get mostly more subtle laughs. Beanie’s comedic guilt trip, unleashed on Wilson’s Mitch after he swears in front of Beanie’s young son, is priceless.
And representing the Wilson family, Luke is significantly funnier here than his brother Owen is in Shanghai Knights. The closest thing Old School has to a straight man, Wilson gets infrequent opportunities to let loose, but relishes them when he does.
Essentially, though, this is Ferrell’s show all the way. A great comedian who has stolen other movies, Ferrell has, with Old School, a highlight reel speaking heavily in favor of his decision to leave the stagnant Saturday Night Live. The streaking, hijacking fraternity pledges, shooting himself in the neck with an animal tranquilizer, floor gymnastics — every moment with Frank is worth the price of admission. It’s a great character and a great performance.
What makes Old School a real treat, though, is that it never sacrifices its character’s personalities solely to sell a crass joke. Deep down, Beanie is a good family man who enjoys marriage even if he tells himself he doesn’t want to be. Mitch is an average guy who wants to find a woman who respects him for that. And Frank … well, maybe he’s meant to be the Trans-Am-driving, Pabst-drinking “Tank” the rest of his life.
In that regard, Old School is every bit as funny as There’s Something About Mary, a movie that might make your face hurt with laughter and has its heart in a high-enough place while its mind is in the gutter.