out of Five
Running time: 100
The performances ensure that this is never less than watchable but it's not as clever or as funny as it should have been.
What's it all about?
Based on a fondly remembered 1960s' British comedy, School for Scoundrels stars Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) as Roger, a New York parking cop who keeps getting bullied at work due to his low self-esteem. However, help is at hand, in the form of a top secret self-help school run by the mysterious Doctor P (Billy Bob Thornton) with the aid of his burly assistant, Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan).
Roger uses his new-found confidence to woo his attractive neighbour Amanda (Jacinda Barrett) but things get complicated when Doctor P falls for her too and decides to win her away from under Roger's nose.
Soon the two men are engaged in a deadly game of one-upmanship where seemingly no trick is too underhanded.
The performances are extremely good. Thornton is clearly enjoying himself as the duplicitous doc, whilst Heder brings just the right level of goofy sweetness to Roger. There's also strong support from Luis Guzman and Todd Louiso (as fellow students), as well as an under-used Roger Cross (as the guy who gives Roger the tip-off about the school) and Sarah Silverman as Amanda's sarcastic roommate.
Unfortunately, Jacinda Barrett lets the side down a bit with yet another bland performance and you can't help thinking that Roger should have gone for Silverman instead.
The script raises the odd chuckle but there's no real wit or invention here - the humour is very much of the if-in-doubt-hit-someone-in-the-balls variety and that wears thin after a while. Similarly, once the one-upmanship begins, the film pretty much abandons its premise in favour of a series of increasingly cheap gags.
In short, this is just about worth seeing for Heder, Thornton and Silverman, but it relies too heavily on cheap gags and never really delivers on its premise.
School For Scoundrels (12A)