SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS is based on a little known 1960 British
film of the same name which in turn was adapted from books by
Stephen Potter. The present version was penned by Todd Phillips (who
also directed) and his frequent collaborator Scot Armstrong. Recall
that this is the team responsible for
ROAD TRIP and OLD SCHOOL and
you'll have some idea exactly what kind of comedy this film will be.

 Jon Heder (
NAPOLEON DYNAMITE himself) is cast as Roger,
a sad sack who works as a New York City parking meter attendant.
He's easily pushed around and has zero self-esteem, especially when
it comes to his Australian neighbor Amanda (Jacinda Barrett). At his
volunteer position as a big brother, he's an utter failure. So when he's
told of a secret class that will help him, he immediately enrolls.

 The class is operated by the slightly shifty Dr. P (Billy Bob
Thornton, who has now cornered the market on these crafty, smug
characters). His self-help guru is among the actor's finer work -- ranking
up there with
BAD SANTA and his other snarky peformances. What's
unfortunate is that he's trapped in a middling comedy film that isn't
quite sure exactly what it is trying to do.

 Phillips as co-writer and director appears to be aiming for the
black comedy genre, but he's too much of a populist to allow his
work to become that dark. He needs to keep it bright and shiny and
the result is a mishmash that undermines Thornton's gleaming villain.
 
 Heder is okay in the role of the student who eventually surpasses
the teacher, but the second half of the film devolves into a kind of
one-upsmanship that isn't all that funny. If Heder defeats Thornton
on the tennis court, we know Thornton will do something to make
Heder look bad (like break into Amanda's apartment). It continues
to escalate until the unbelievable climax.

 Part of the problem with the film is that Barrett comes across
as a cipher. She's not a bad actress but here she's unflatteringly
photographed and left flailing about in many scenes. She also has
zero chemistry with either Heder or Thornton so the men's pursuit
of her becomes a matter that no one cares about.

 Ben Stiller shows up as a former student driven insane
and Michael Clarke Duncan appears as Dr. P's right hand man. But
none of the actors can save this weak script nor survive the tepid
direction. I suppose there's a germ of a good idea in the story,
but not in the execution. It says something when one of the best
things in it is Sarah Silverman.

 
           Rating:                D
           MPAA Rating:       PG-13 for language, crude and sexual
                                         content, and some violence
           Running time:      100 mins.


                 Viewed at the AMC 34th Street Theater
School for Scoundrels
©  2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.