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School for Scoundrels (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Dr P (Billy Bob Thornton) runs a school to change wusses into tough guys. Roger (Jon Heder) is a wuss with a crush on his next door neighbor, Amanda (Jacinda Barrett). He can’t get up the nerve to ask her for a date, so he enrolls in Dr P’s school. Thus begins a relatively funny adventure with Roger finally having to challenge his teacher, leading to some humorous scenes.

Thornton has pretty much copywritten the role of the outsider who marches to the beat of a disturbed drummer. Heder is coming off an acclaimed performance in “Napoleon Dynamite” and seems perfectly cast as the guy who is so meek he is just too, too nice. As such, he’s never going to get the girl.

Buttressing the right-on performances of the two stars are some good supporting performances, mainly by Michael Clarke Duncan as Dr P’s brutal enforcer, Lesher, and Ben Stiller as the loony Lonnie.

Good script by Director Todd Phillips and Scot Armstrong based on Stephen Potter’s book, “School for Scoundrels or how to win without actually cheating,” and the 1960 film written by Hal E. Chester and Patricia Moyes.

Although he gives a good performance as a loser who wants to be a winner, Heder shows that he is of the Sean Penn School as he wails without shedding any tears. Scenes like these immediately lose their effectiveness as you see an actor blubber and cry without any visible result. If an actor is so deficient of ability that he can’t shed tears on cue, he shouldn’t agree to any crying scenes.

The movie is entertaining. Thornton is rewardingly ambiguous up until the very end. As with most films, I thought this was a little too long at 101 minutes. I squirmed a little and looked at my watch a couple of times. Had it been tighter, it would have been better, but it was good enough, especially when it’s compared with most of the other stuff that’s foisted on the audience these days.

September 28, 2006