Arguably the first Judd Apatow comedy bearing no involvement by Judd Apatow, “Role Models” rides the currently in-vogue wave of mixing vulgarity with sympathy, in hopes of offending your sensibilities, hurting your sides and maybe “ just maybe “ touching your heart. It mostly succeeds.
Credit is due to its affable leads, the oil-and-vinegar best friends of Wheeler (Seann William Scott, “Mr. Woodcock”) and Danny (Paul Rudd, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”). Wheeler is the coarse, careless, serial casual-sex partner, while Danny is the buttoned-up guy with a long-term, live-in lawyer girlfriend. Both buds work alongside each other as marketers for an energy drink called Minotaur (“Taste the beast!”), which turns one’s urine green, “like Shrek’s piss,” notes Danny.
Nearing a mid-life crisis, Danny’s short fuse is wearing on his better half, Beth (Elizabeth Banks, “Zack and Miri Make a Porno”), to the point where she’s thinking a split is in order. Impulsively, a desperate Danny fumbles an insincere marriage proposal. She refuses, sending him off the deep end, resulting in a confrontation with a tow-truck driver, a police officer and one school statue that lands him and Wheeler with a litany of legal trouble.
To avoid jail sentences, Beth wrangles them a 150-hour community service gig at Sturdy Wings, a program for troubled kids run by an overzealous former coke addict (Jane Lynch, “The Rocker”). Danny is saddled with Augie Farks (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, “Superbad”), a nerd who lives vicariously in a word of fantasy swordplay, while Wheeler is assigned to Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson, “Fred Claus”), a sassy black kid with a single parent and a dirty mouth that belies his youth and short stature. Can the older misfits mentor the young misfits, and vice versa?
Although that Apatow imprint is all over “Role Models,” its lineage lies with “The State,” the 1990s sketch-comedy series that never quite took off as anticipated, yet whose members have gone on to more successful vehicles, most notably TV’s “Reno 911!” and the cult comedy “Wet Hot American Summer,” with which this film shares David Wain as co-writer/director.
Wain has utilized Rudd in a number of projects, and here, the actor is the film’s single greatest asset. In the sidekick likes of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up” and “Anchorman,” Rudd has more than proved his mettle as a fearless comedian, not the least bit concerned with letting his characters’ flaws mess with his pretty-boy visage. His brand of smarm-and-charm is winning, and his sad-sack line delivery makes him one of the funniest people in movies today.
Scott hasn’t been so lucky, parlaying his post-“American Pie” career as Stifler into forgettable ventures not worthy of his all-American appeal. After the wrecks that were “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “Bulletproof Monk,” the cocky actor’s career has needed a shot in the arm, and “Role Models” proves to be that dose of B12. He and Rudd enjoy chemistry near the level of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in “Wedding Crashers,” which elevates the material.
And about that: The story is about as conventional as they come, with plot points telegraphed way in advance. How you think it will end is indeed how it ends. With a picture like this, it’s all about whether you laugh along the way. I think you will.