For most of us memories of our college days are a mixture of the best and worse times in our lives. There was the pressure to fit in to a new group, the first time most of us were away from the safety of our parent’s home. Leaving the nest also provided a sense of freedom from their authority and restrictions. Some college students are legal adults with still with the drives and lack of sensibilities of an adolescent. This sense of freedom and stupidity has been fodder for more flicks than it would be possible to count. One of the great comedies of all time ‘Animal House’ came from this particular film genre. That was the top of the pile there are many that fail. Somewhere in between is the 2003 movie by Todd Phillips, ‘Old School’. While not up to the level of imagination or brilliant construction of ‘Animal House’ it has definitely risen about the pack. The film is juvenile, scatological, gross and ultimately will make you laugh out loud. This is also the type of movie that tends to do poorly with the critics. The film has technical mistakes that make it lacking in what is required for a cohesive and well crafted film. The good news here is this is also the kind of flick that audiences enjoy watching. In the final analysis most film makers of this genre would rather tickle the funny bone of people than pander to the critics. This dichotomy usually means one thing; do not think while watching this film. The movie will find its audience with high school and college guys as well as some men who can identify with the nostalgic men who are the center of what passes here as a plot. While not a ‘laugh riot’ of a flick it does provide enough silliness to be an enjoyable movie to watch when the guys are over and the ladies are out of the house. There is a firm reason as to why flicks such as this are made so often. It had a budget of $24 million and made that sum back with a nice profit margin. It also has a cast whose collective talents far exceed the demands of a low brow comedy like this. The unrated DVD has been out for a few years now but Paramount has been re-releasing a good deal of their catalogue to Blu-ray. This film does look and sound better in this high definition format but the jokes remain the same; funny in that drunken frat boy sort of way.
The team responsible for the script here is Court Crandall and Todd Phillips. This is the freshman opus for Crandall but Phillips had one script before this ‘Road Trip’, the lamentable vehicle for Tom Green. After this movie Phillips went on to writing credits that encompassed ‘Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan’ and ‘Starsky & Hutch’. At least it can be said that he has found his niche in the industry. The screenplay is loose to the point of appearing to be simple guidelines for the cast to base their characters. Basically it is about a group of men who miss the carefree days of college and attempt to return to them. As they cast off their adult responsibilities they also shed any semblance of dignity along the way. The humor is derived almost completely from sex, drugs and alcohol. Like all too many films flicks of this ilk the grade school jokes have become standard faire. There is not much here that cannot be anticipated even by a target audience under the influence of legal and illegal psychotropic substances. This is a quality presented here that does manage to keep this movie from sinking into the undisguised peers in the genre. It is at least honest about the level of humor. It doesn’t make any attempt to be more than a silly comedy that is intended to provide a few laughs.
Todd Phillips does have some experience as a director. This was his third time in that chair. His first two movies were both documentaries. The first one, ‘Hated’ looked at a real murder in the punk rock world. Phillip’s second film ‘Frat House’ was concerned with the extremes that college hazing can attain. There was a lot of controversy with this one as many critics accused Phillips of staging events in the documentary to heighten the dramatic effect. Phillips denied the accusations and stands by the validity of his work. In some ways the film under consideration here appears to be a response to this criticism. He makes no pretense or apology with how ridiculous and fake the circumstances are in this flick. Phillips does appear to realize that his cast has some of the better comic actors around and gives them free reign in many scenes. This is particularly true for any scene that highlights Will Farrell. He is one of the Saturday Night Live alumni that have made a go of it with his films. Whether he is in the lead or just an ancillary character you have to admit the man is funny. Jeremy Piven also works out well as the villain of the piece. With any ‘Animal House’ wannabe there has to be a dean that wants to put an end to the antics of the main characters. Piven has the right approach to his role and comes off successfully in it.
Mitch (Luke Wilson), Fank (Will Ferrell) and Bernard (Vince Vaughn) have been best friends since their days in college. Recently all three have had the circumstances in their lives change radically. Mitch comes home on day only to discover that his girlfriend Heidi (Juliette Lewis) has been partaking in group sex with various people. She wants to convince him that is is only physical and that she loves him but Mitch is unable to see things in that light. Frank has just settled down getting married. Mitch is reminded of the more carefree days of college when he runs into Nicole (Ellen Pompeo), the girl he had a big crush on back in high school. Mitch moves out from his girlfriend and finds a great old house near to their old college. Bernard was always the party animal of the group and tries to lift Mitch’s spirits with a blow out party. This brings in the frat boy crowd and makes them the hit of the campus. The guys decide to recapture the good old days by forming their own fraternity. The do succeed by becoming the focal point of wild campus life. This gains the attention of Pritchard (Jeremy Piven) who becomes determined to close them down.
The movie is silly and many times on the edge of being disgusting. In other words just right for that poker night when it looks like the game will end too early. It is not a requirement to be drunk while watching but many people I have spoken to about this flick claim that it does help. The new Blu-ray release is incredibly well mastered and presented. The video is up there with some of the best around while the Dolby True HD lossless audio will enfold you. This is a humorous flick that if you are in the mood might be the thing to watch.