School for Scoundrels (2006)

Amanda is demoted from object of desire to prop, so wan and undirected that she'll fall for whoever happens to be winning the boys' contest at any given moment.

School for Scoundrels

Director: Todd Phillips
Cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Heder, Jacinda Barrett, Michael Clarke Duncan, Sarah Silverman, David Cross
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: MGM
First date: 2006
US Release Date: 2006-09-29 (General release)

"Did he rape you?" This question serves as a running gag throughout School for Scoundrels, a decidedly unfunny comedy about a wimp who becomes not a wimp. The question above pertains to the TA for the course the wimps take, called Be-A-Lion-In-Life and costing each student $5,000. The Significantly named Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan) serves as a model for burly, churlish behavior and the monstrous price to pay for being a wimp in the first place.

The primary wimp in School for Scoundrels is New York City meter-reader Roger. The fact that he's played by Jon Heder tells you more than you need to know with regard to the limits of his "characterization," but it's worth noting that the Mormon Heder's renowned disinclination to appear in movies featuring curse words does not extend to those featuring racist, misogynist, homophobic nincompoopery. That's not to say that his Roger is not a nice nerd, or that he is consistently obnoxious in School. You might even commend his bad behavior, as it tends to be aimed at the man whom the movie urges you to hate, Roger's teacher, the Lion in Life himself, Dr. P (surgically reconstructed Billy Bob Thornton).

Roger might have noticed this course is a sketchy proposition as it's recommended to him by Ian (David Cross), right after he tells Roger not to come back to the local Big Brother HQ, as his little mentees keep rejecting him. Crushed, Roger begins to cry, and Ian is so put out by the sight that he imagines the course -- which helped him be able to date "two different Asian chicks" at the same time -- will also help his sudden non-friend.

The class is filled with Roger-like "losers" played by TV stars, like Walsh (Matt Walsh), Diego (Horatio Sanz), and Eli (Todd Louiso). When they're not cowering in their Learning Annex chair-desks as Dr. P glares at them ("How many of you retards own a self-help book?"), the boys are asking dimwitted questions like "What exactly does this class teach?" The answer is simple, proclaims Dr. P: the class will teach them to get what they want, namely, "the tit" (which he draws crudely on the blackboard). "I want the tit," mumble the students feebly. To reinforce the distinction between who they are and who they want to be, Dr. P pronounces, "There are two types of men in this world. Those who run shit like me, and those who eat shit, like you."

Roger wants to run shit. Or at least, he wants to gain the attention of his vivacious neighbor Amanda (Jacinda Barrett). Though her roommate Becky (Sarah Silverman) delights in demeaning Roger whenever they spot him in the hallway, Amanda is almost kind to him. At least she doesn’t sneer outright when he comes to the door and faints dead away (he's prone to "panic attacks"). Instead, she hauls him inside and holds frozen peas to his head until he gets up the nerve to ask her out and, for no decipherable reason, she says yes. Reading off cue cards during their date, Roger determines to "be dangerous," by stealing lobsters from a tank and freeing them in a nearby and no doubt polluted river. Amanda giggles and sighs: looks like Roger's a star.

But if Roger is pleased with the female-oriented part of his coursework, he and the other boys are increasingly troubled by their trainers' methods. This is to be expected in a film where paintballs shot to the groin count for hellacious hilarity. Directed by Todd Phillips, its jokes resemble those in Old School, all pratfally-farty-naked-bummy sorts of gags. The rape joke emerges among these, as Lesher appears leering at the naked bums of several tied-up students, who subsequently utter the question whenever his name comes up.

Lesher isn't the only focus of the white students' fear (Diego is lumped among them, as is former student/current psycho/Will-Ferrell-in-his-mommy's-basement-wannabe Lonnie [Ben Stiller]). Another running gag that reinforces the threat posed by large black men is focused through Roger, who is early on humiliated by a couple of street bullies, Bee Bee (Antoine DeRay Davis) and Lawrence (Omar J. Dorsey), not only violently reject Roger's attempt to ticket their car by taking his uniform and standard issue New Balance shoes. Following his classes with Dr. P, Roger heads to the basketball court where the scary guys play, to demand his shoes back. In front of their friends on the court, Bee Bee and Lawrence are doing no such thing ("Boy done slipped and fell into a pile of ass-whuppin'"). That is, until one guy's furious mama shows up and insists he give up the shoes (shoes he has no business desiring in the first place, but, you know, you suspend disbelief).

This particular humiliation takes up about two minutes of screen time, but it makes the world right for Roger, who watches mama's mastery of her son in awe ("Don't make me start prayin', boy," she says, upon which he is instantly whimpering and compliant). Now he can go on to do battle with Lesher and Dr. P, who makes a play for Amanda. While the doctor's betrayal horrifies Roger and his fellow weenies, the storyline that has Aussie grad student Amanda falling for Roger and then Dr. P is on its face ridiculous to the point of being offensive.

But again, this is a Todd Phillips movie and so, you get what you expect. Amanda's demoted here from object of desire to prop, so wan and undirected that she'll fall for whoever happens to be winning their contest at any given moment. Even if Dr. P is a tyrant and a cheat, his lessons for winning women pass for wisdom, because, you know, girls love "dangerous" men, even if boys are afraid of them.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.