This film ... well, it might come as a surprise to hear somebody say this, but it should probably take its place in the science fiction pantheon with Galaxy Quest, and I'm rather tempted to give it a spot on my Hugo nominating ballot. Certainly, if you're a friend of the science fiction community you'd danged well better find your way to this on video when it's released on March 10. Just like Galaxy Quest, it's oft times hilarious. In the same way that Galaxy Quest kind of made it OK to be a Trekkie, kind of mainstreamed the whole idea of worshiping science fiction on TV, Role Models mainstreams Live Action Role Playing, or LARP, which is at least as marginalized to those like me who are strong literary sf fans but is still very much a part of the sci-fi continuum. I'd like our community to recognize, acknowledge, appreciate.
In its bare outlines, the plot of Role Models is kind of a snoozer. Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott play salesman for an energy drink who specialize in school visits, Scott in a mascot outfit that would be embarrassing to wear even in the green room for a masquerade at WorldCon. Rudd is the straight man who pitches the drink in nice togs, and when he has a very bad day the two of them are forced to join a Big Brother type organization as community service. Scott is given a very typical Hollywood bad black kid, while Rudd is given a child of white suburbia who finds his greatest joy in LARP, which his parents try to ignore when they're not actively trying to discourage. If you've seen a movie you can probably write the outline for the rest of this one. The guys will bond with the boys, but the parents and the supervisor won't understand what they're doing, and everyone will be forced apart due to their Tragic Flaws but only temporarily as everyone will eventually See The Light en route to the Happy Ending.
Maybe I should like this movie less than I did. It's not all that long ago that I was saying of Gran Turino that I wasn't willing to give it extra credit for taking a blah story and dressing it up with lots of ethnic stereotypes that were supposed to be safe because it was Clint Eastwood saying them. Is it any different with Role Models, which takes this kind of boring story that we could all write and dresses it up with a gleeful explosion of curse words and scatology? I'm saying that it is. There's almost a certain irony to the full-throttled gleefulness with which Role Models undermines the exact thing it personifies. Co-writer (with Rudd) and director David Wain has a background with The Daily Show and various comic troupes and MadTV, while Rudd has done serious drama and rank comedy and theatre of all shapes and sizes, and they're able in their script to attack the cliches with, of all things, sophistication.
And then there's the LARP. I don't like LARP, I don't understand it, I don't get it. But I'm a science fiction geek at heart, and somehow or other I've lucked into a job where I've been able to take my inner sf geek and turn it into a career and ultimately into a pretty rewarding and lucrative one. By editing sf/fantasy novels, and hanging out with sf/fantasy authors, and riding elevators in fancy hotels with people speaking Klingon while dressed in their best Barrayaran. How cool is that! And now here's a movie that throws the f-bomb at just about every corny "mixed-pair" buddy movie cliche it can think of while treating LARP -- LARP, for goodness sake! -- with the utmost respect and admiration. There's strong, and then there's LARP strong!
I wish I'd done this post two months ago when the specific reviews were fresh in my mind, but it's my definite recollection that at least some reviewers (Joe Morgenstern in the Wall St. Journal I'm thinking as foremost among them) were driven to distraction by the whole LARP thing. Oh, such a nice story, but then they start playing this, this, This GAME!, and I just don't care or understand or whatever. Well, I was laughing my head off for good chunks of the movie, and almost in spite of myself when they started to find redemption through LARP-ing, that inner geek in me wanted to extend the olive branch to all those weird people doing weird LARP demonstrations on the lawn at Stony Brook during I-Con.
On video on March 10. Add it to your NetFlix queue, make an appointment with your RedBox, but see it. (Except, like, if you don't like foul language do I need to explicity say like it isn't clear enough in the review, that you might find a little much of it here.)
The worst part of the movie is probably the failed romantic relationship Rudd has, the kind of Hollywood-type thing the studio wants in order to help the film appeal to another "quadrant." (Hollywood likes "four quadrant" films which will appeal to boys and girls and men and women up to age 49.) The best part of the movie is pretty much everything else.