Old School (2003)
Release Date: February 21st, 2003 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Todd Phillips Actors: Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Jeremy Piven, Ellen Pompeo, Juliette Lewis, Leah Remini, Elisha Cuthbert, Seann William Scott, Artie Lange, Sara Tanaka
ld School” employs a serious storyline fused with slapstick and raunchy gags to create an uproarious teen comedy – with a cast of adults. It borrows from the style of the crude ‘70s party epic “Animal House,” boasting nonstop, immature humor as its main source of amusement, while also attempting a bit of nostalgia in the revelries of its older characters as they revisit a past of wild irreverence. The mix of veteran comedians and colorful newcomers creates a dynamic that would also go on to influence quite a few subsequent pictures (including future projects with Vaughn, Ferrell, Owen Wilson, and Seth Rogen [in both “Superbad” and “Neighbors”]).
Mitch Martin (Luke Wilson) arrives home to find his girlfriend cheating on him, spurring him to immediately move out and rent a house on the outskirts of his alma mater, Harrison University. Forgotten high school rival Gordon Pritchard (Jeremy Piven), now the dean of the school, shows up to threaten to rezone and confiscate the house after a huge welcoming party is thrown by Wilson’s friends Beanie (Vince Vaughn) and Frank (Will Ferrell). In order to save his home, Mitch is coerced into starting a new fraternity. After rushing and gathering pledges, they assemble a misfit club that barely constitutes an organization at all. But when the crafty dean attempts to shut them down by demanding a rigorous series of tests to prove the fraternity’s unworthiness, Beanie, Frank, and Mitch must band together to show the university what school spirit is all about.
The three main characters share the screen equally, but alternatingly clamor for the spotlight; each comedian’s distinct personality and contrasting style of humor lends to a diverting onscreen partnership. Several of the supporting characters, including “Blue” (Patrick Cranshaw) and Weensie (Jared Mixon), also add hilarity beyond the typical gross-out laughs that plague many college-oriented flicks. The visually varying characters help to overshadow the depressing situations of adulthood that continue to crop up (as if a sense of reality was somehow necessary in such a fantastical premise) as they plot the most ridiculous of solutions.
Despite the standard use of outrageous (and borderline cartoonish) circumstances for big laughs, the characters end up getting into predicaments with questionable outcomes. When the fraternity members are required to take a written academic exam, they use electronic earpieces to get answers from a nearby van that relays info from the internet. Since they planned to cheat to get past this obstacle, there would be no reason not to do the same on the other tests, such as during the debate challenge – yet the filmmakers opt for a bit of nonsensical divine intervention instead (it is, in fact, Pritchard that essentially cheats during this sequence).
There’s a pitiable melancholy to the whole ordeal, which works perfectly with the coarse drollery to balance the tone for a wider demographic to enjoy. It’s unexpectedly accurate in its grasping-at-youth subthemes and notes on regret. Plus, Will Ferrell bares it all in a drunken streaking scene and takes an elephant tranquilizer to the neck (with help from the recognizable Seann William Scott); Andy Dick makes a cameo as an effeminate sex instructor; and the 87-year-old “Blue” KY Jelly-wrestles with two topless coeds. What else could anyone ask for in a bawdy college comedy?
– Mike Massie