SCREEN SCENES: “School for Scoundrels”
By Brian Segna
Sept. 23, 2006 9:00 p.m.
“School for Scoundrels”
Director Todd Phillips
(Out Of 5)
Jon Heder can only sigh and shake his head as he recounts the
moment from his youth when he made the conscious decision to strip
to his underwear and plunge into a freezing pond. His feeble
attempt to impress a girl is embarrassing even today, though then
he had no idea that those antics would be catalysts for a
In fact, the “Napoleon Dynamite” star plays a very
similar confidence-lacking character in this fall’s first
quirky comedy “School for Scoundrels.”
“I really was like the character in (“School for
Scoundrels”) in high school,” said Heder during a
recent press conference. “I had no confidence with
Having already lived the parallel teenage life, Heder is no
stranger to the awkward character, but ultimately it becomes only a
watered-down version of Napoleon Dynamite.
And it is such pervading familiarity that ultimately makes
“School for Scoundrels” the weakest film that producer,
director and cowriter Todd Phillips (“Old School” and
“Starsky & Hutch”) has offered yet.
A lack of originality permeates the carelessly written and
transparent plot, driven by less-than-extraordinary acting.
After embarrassing himself one too many times in front of the
girl of his dreams, Roger (Heder) decides to enroll in an
underground class meant to teach a group of “losers”
how to hold their own in the dating world. The teacher is the
intense and ruthless Dr. P., played by Billy Bob Thornton.
Thornton’s character gives the group of
“Scoundrels” a series of trite rules to follow while
dating including “be dangerous,” and “lie about
everything.” They are assigned “Project
Mayhem”-esque missions, such as “start a confrontation
with a stranger” to boost confidence ““ yet these just
aren’t pulled off with the same panache as in “Fight
But just as Roger breaks out of his shell and begins to make
impressive headway with the girl he has fallen for, the
ultra-competitive Dr. P decides to win over Roger’s girl
(Australian actress Jacinda Barrett, “Ladder 49″) for
himself. In a ruthless battle over the girl, it becomes obvious
that a winner must be declared.
It’s intriguing enough, even though the premise is
unoriginal; it’s adapted from the 1960 film “School for
Scoundrels or How to Win Without Actually Cheating!”
And though Heder and Phillips were successful comic filmmakers
with “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Old School,”
respectively, “Scoundrels” is ultimately a poor mixture
of the two with a romantic twist.
“School for Scoundrels” certainly does have a few
successful moments ““ mostly based on “Napoleon”
and “Old School” humor bleeding through from time to
time. But it is tough to justify 101 minutes of film based on rare,
isolated allusions to better films.
So rather than continuing to strip to their underwear and jump
in the same freezing pond, it might be nice to see Heder and
Phillips find a new way to impress their audience.
E-mail Segna at [email protected].