(R) 3 stars After viewing the trailers for Old School, I attended a screening with hopes that the film might be a contemporary version of National Lampoon"s Animal House. While the comedy lacks the expanse of characters and ideas of the 1978 smash, it is clearly the product of the same vintage bad boy mindset. Although the movie is choppy, with some good gags spoiled by inept camera placement, it delivers big laughs on a consistent basis (provided, of course, that you are emotionally arrested in a fashion similar to me).
Where most recent R-rated comedies depend on extreme gross-out gags, Old School employs a slightly tamer form of rudeness. In fact, many of the jokes work by showing relatively down-to-earth reactions to outrageous actions. Case in point: The wife of one of the main bad boys is driving down a deserted street at night with her girlfriends when she spots a nude man running in front of them. As the car draws closer, it becomes clear that the naked figure is her husband. The encounter is particularly funny because the reactions of the wife and her pals are more or less what one would expect from a group of level-headed adults. While a ridiculous action coupled with a ridiculous reaction may draw a laugh, this approach is funnier. The story: When Mitch (Luke Wilson) comes home and finds his girlfriend Heidi (Juliette Lewis) in a compromising position (better camerawork would have helped the scene enormously), he moves out and rents a house by a college campus. Following a hugely successful party, Mitch"s friends, smarmy businessman Beanie (Vince Vaughn) and just-married Frank (Will Ferrell), nudge him into turning his home into a frat house for adults, allowing them one last shot at the wild life. Ah, but will mean old Dean Pritchard (Jeremy Piven, too young for the role) be able to drive them off campus? And how will the women in their lives (Ellen Pompeo, Leah Remini, Perrey Reeves and Elisha Cuthbert) react to this nonsense? The story may be strained, but the central concept - three guys desperately trying to recapture their wild youth - is rock solid. As Beanie, husband, father and founder of Speaker City, Vince Vaughn gets his juiciest role since Swingers. His attempts to stir up mayhem while maintaining propriety pay off nicely, particularly in a scene where he chides a friend for violating his "earmuff" policy (a code word to prompt his kids to cover their ears so the grown-ups can swear). Luke Wilson makes a fine straight-man as the "very successful, very disease free" Mitch, while SNL veteran Will Ferrell is hilarious as he reverts to his college persona as Frank "The Tank." The movie would be worth seeing if only for his streaking scene and his unbelievably ill-timed rendition "Dust in the Wind." Old School is sloppy and mines some over-familiar turf, but the movie is funny, very funny. And those who stay in their seats when the closing credits start to roll will be rewarded.