Old School - Unseen Review
Sometimes life just kicks you in the teeth, you return home early from a business trip to find your girlfriend hosting a gang-bang, leaving you suddenly single, depressed, and looking for a new place to live. When you’ve hit bottom it’s hard to even consider seeing the top again, happiness seems to have abandoned you, and you’ll never smile again. But how big a smile do you think you’d have on your face if someone told you that in a few short months you’d be living in a beautiful new home, surrounded by not only the cutting edge in entertainment equipment but also hundreds of drunk teenage girls. Ear to ear - guaranteed.
The lucky guy in question is Mitch (Luke Wilson), a real-estate lawyer who not so long ago was happy with his life, before the gang-bang that is. He stumbles across a property on the edge of a college campus, minutes away from the frat houses occupied by the stereotypical jocks all the geeks despise. He just sees it as a nice house, but his friends Frank (Will Ferrell) – recently married and having trouble adjusting to domestic bliss – and Beanie (Vince Vaughn) – married long ago and no longer under the illusion that domestic bliss actually exists – see his new home as the solution to all their problems. Mitch should start his own fraternity, then they can all relive their youths without their wives having a clue what they’re up to, and maybe Mitch can even find himself a new girlfriend.
With the benefit of years of experience, and actual paying jobs to finance their fun, the guys soon turn Mitch’s house into hottest party location in town, and Mitch becomes a local hero, with the college kids dubbing him The Godfather. They throw themselves back into the college lifestyle, with a full Rush Week where they take pledges and submit them to a series of humiliations to see who really is worthy of their fraternity, and the place is soon filled not only with eager young students but also guys that finished college a long time ago and are desperate to put the magic back in their lives. Unfortunately for them the faculty are less than impressed with their activities, not least because the Dean of Students (Jeremy Piven) is still holding a grudge against them from when they were in school the first time around, I guess locking someone in a dumpster will have that effect on them. The future is looking less than rosy for Mitch - even if he doesn’t know it yet - and all the boys are having trouble with their new favourite pastime spilling over into their everyday lives.
Old School was directed by Todd Phillips, and while the name may not be familiar when you discover this is his first trip behind the camera since Road Trip it becomes very clear what to expect of the film. It’s rude, it’s childish, and yes, it is very funny – at times. The casting is excellent, whilst many consider Luke Wilson to be nothing more than an inferior Owen Wilson it would be hard to imagine Owen having much trouble adjusting to a life of debauchery, Luke on the other hand is totally believable as a guy struggling with it, he’s just so nice. Will Ferrell was long overdue a starring role suitable for his talents, and while on paper his is a supporting role he steals every scene he’s in, and as he reverts back to his drunken college persona Frank the Tank the laughs start to come thick and fast. Vaughn excels as Beanie, a self made man sick and tired of the white picket fence he’s built for himself and in desperate need of some real fun. His venomous tongue – something Vaughn has done consistently well – is the source of much laughter, there’s something eternally funny about gloriously inappropriate behaviour, especially when it’s directed at the helpless.
In the commentary Phillips mentions that the film was written as a kind of comedy Fight Club, and the comparison is more than obvious. Mitch is the Jack figure, and Beanie his Tyler, pushing him into their newfound partying lifestyle. The new frat attracts many middle aged men, desperate to recapture their youths, and fill the voids missing in their lives. There are many little nods to the film to spot, like Mitch using the work photocopier to copy frat propaganda, and the sad passing of a frat member, dying partaking in the cause – just like poor Bob.
But the films biggest problem is that the concept is stretched too far. The idea of guys reliving their youth in a frat house is an inspired one, but you get the idea this is a script that was sold on the treatment and then someone had to sit down and flesh out pesky details like a plot. As the boys start to fight to save their fraternity, and all its members, things take a turn for the obvious and the laughs per minute counter drops startlingly low, which gives you more than enough time to reflect on the absence of plot. The few funny scenes that are left are all too brief, feeling like somebody had to pull it together from post-it notes of ideas that had never been fully fleshed out. If the laughs had kept coming you wouldn’t have cared, but they really run out of paper to put over the cracks. It’s a shame as the first hour is genuinely funny, and never hints at the problems that are headed all too swiftly your way, if the script had spent a little longer in development this could have been easily as good as Phillips previous work.
It’s worth noting that, much like American Pie and Road Trip before it, this ‘Unseen’ edition of Old School will only differ by a few seconds from what was seen in cinemas. It’s obvious that a few extra seconds of nipple wouldn’t have changed the rating of the film, so once again this is a marketing ploy, but it’s clearly one that works.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a Dreamworks DVD that had picture problems and Old School does nothing to endanger my faith in their high production standards. Contrast, colour fidelity, sharpness, and compression are all very good, even in the busy, dark party scenes.
Not surprisingly for a comedy it isn’t the most active soundtrack you’re likely to hear, but the Dolby Digital 5.1 makes some noise when it’s required. The party scenes provide the best opportunities for surround usage, and naturally when Snoop Dogg takes to the stage the bass gets a good workout. It’s far from a demo disc but still a enjoyable listen.
Commentary from Director Todd Phillips and stars Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn
This commentary came as somewhat of a surprise as it is listed on the case merely as ‘feature commentary’, you would think having the director and stars all together would deserve more of a fanfare than that. It’s certainly an amiable commentary, though rarely laugh-out-loud funny, everyone has good stories to tell. Phillips points out many of the Fight Club references, Ferrell discusses the benefits of streaking without the usual modesty covering afforded actors, Wilson talks in depth about his eyes – which are named Kevin and Shorty – and the hard work they put into the film and you have to laugh hearing about Snoop Dogg’s attitude to shooting his cameo.
Inside the Actors Studio Spoof
Inside the actors studio is quite a well known show in America, where the finest actors are invited to talk about there craft and classic movies. The commentary participants are all present here, with Ferrell doubling as the host, and while it does provide some laughs as they earnestly talk about how much they hated working together and discussing their fine work on movies such as Gus Van Sant’s Psycho and A Night at the Roxbury, it isn’t as funny as the premise suggested – though people more familiar with the show may well be able to find jokes most English viewers will be oblivious too.
From the Cutting Room Floor
It’s generally true that comedy movies have the best deleted scenes, as many scenes are trimmed to keep the pace of the movie up, and Old School is no exception. The best of these scenes come from Vince Vaughn, with one scene where he tries to convince Luke Wilson that there is nothing wrong with statutory rape, calling it ‘the jaywalking of sex crimes’ and another as he hands out the assignments to the pledges at his sons birthday party, it’s a shame many of these scenes had to leave the film.
Old School Orientation
Despite the clever name this is simply a standard studio making of that naturally tells you as much of the story as possible and gives away the best jokes. Don’t watch it before the movie or it’ll spoil it, don’t watch it after or it’ll bore you.
Outtakes and Bloopers
A five minute compilation of funny snippets of scenes that didn’t make it and the usual ‘cast cracking up at inappropriate moments’ scenes set to a jaunty little tune, which is sure to raise a few smiles, once at least.
3 TV spots that make the film look more like an Oscar winner than a silly comedy, all with tongue firmly planted in cheek, which makes them much better than standard advertising campaigns.
Does exactly what it says on the tin, a few dozen candid photos from the set for you to pour through.
While the film falters towards the end it is still a very entertaining 90 minutes, certainly worth seeing, and most of the jokes stand up to repeated viewing. The film has been presented with the usual care from Dreamworks and whilst the extras aren’t spectacular they do make this a solid package and a reasonable purchase