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Recycled sophomoric jokes abound in silly, pointless frat comedy

| Friday, Feb. 21, 2003

If there's an afterlife for movies, "National Lampoon's 'Animal House'" will have hell to pay.

A raucously loony depiction of college frat life, it mined a mint.

It was hardly without merit, but it fathered, grandfathered and great-grandfathered a genre of less entertaining, vulgar nincompoop comedies, always cloaked under the mantle of escapism but collectively licensing boring and bad behavior.

The latest exhibit is "Old School," written by Todd Phillips and Scot Armstrong and directed by Phillips, the team whose "Road Trip" (2000) grossed in North America alone about four times its cost.

Their new film represents wish-fulfillment for three 30-somethings whose lives obviously peaked when they were 18, dead drunk and sleeping with someone they wouldn't even recognize in the morning.

As fondly as many of us recall the frat mixers at which we discovered beer, live rock bands and unusually relaxed standards with respect to the opposite gender, the characters in "Old School" just seem pathetic. They haven't grown at all, and they haven't put what they did then in perspective.

That they're imposing a middle-age concept of debauchery on men and women (mostly) half their age carries the stench of rotting cooked cabbage.

A real estate lawyer named Mitch (Luke Wilson) catches live-in Heidi (Juliette Lewis) in a kinky compromising situation and moves out.

He rents a house near a campus and soon is invaded by two former college chums.

Frank The Tank (Will Ferrell), who has just married Marissa (Perrey Reeves), gets thrown out of his new life by the bride, who didn't recognize his prediction for drunken streaking. (We're to see her as an up-tight snob.) He moves into Mitch's rental.

Beanie (Vince Vaughn), who has a wife and children, owns Speaker City, a chain of audio equipment stores. He sees the potential for renewed partying, with him supplying volume enhancement and an eager presence.

When college dean Pritchard (Jeremy Piven), who had been the butt of their college-years jokes, succeeds in having the rental rezoned as campus housing, the three playboys trump Pritchard's ace by turning the home into a frat house where half of the pledges aren't even students.

The geriatric, teeth-impaired Blue (Patrick Cranshaw) provides the big guffaw as the oldest pledge. Bring on the bare-chested women.

"Old School," naturally, is a celebration of bad manners and gross behavior -- the toast at Frank's wedding reception, a gay man instructing wives in fellatio, a surprising quantity of epithets, misogyny and one of the highest quotients of commercial plugs to date.

It builds to a strange, badly staged and mirthless sequence in which frat members must prove themselves to an evaluation board by taking an exam (they cheat anyway) and debating James Carville, a section so seemingly truncated that it is reduced to one question. Huh•

"Old School" attempts to marry a beaten-to-death genre to an age range that can't accommodate it.

It's obvious about everything. Pritchard, for example, has to be the priggish way he is, yet bribing the buxom student body president, just because he used to be the kid that the target audience for "Old School" would hate anyway. He has to make the three leads seem comparatively less obnoxious and devious.

Imagine if they actually were fun or interesting to be around.

'Old School'


Director: Todd Phillips
Stars: Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn
MPAA Rating: R, for some strong sexual content, nudity and language
stars

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