Old School (2003) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Three facts should tell you more about the film than my comments.
  1. Yahoo estimated that the average critical response was a C+, and Yahoo has a softball rating system - the Razzie winner, Swept Away, was a C-.
  2. Yahoo voters rate it 4.2/5. That's off the chart. Citizen Kane is 3.9/5.
  3. Although rated R, thus missing much of its potential audience, it grossed $75 million off a modest $24 million budget. Let me put that in perspective for you with the stats from a comparable movie. The original Austin Powers movie, although rated PG-13, grossed $53 million. With an unrated DVD filled with extra footage and bloopers, Old School is also expected to kick some serious butt in the rental/retail market.

There you go. Many critics hated it, viewers loved it. My recommendation: see it and laugh your ass off ...

 ... unless you are a critic, in which case you should frown disapprovingly, then read an essay about Aristotle's concept of comedy, to remind yourself of the brighter angels of mankind's nature which have not been corrupted by that horrible lowbrow Will Farrell. Before falling asleep, smile approvingly, but fleetingly, when you think of the incisive characterizations in The Hours.

A decade or two ago, "Slobs against the snobs" was the favorite theme for R-rated youth-oriented comedies. Caddyshack and all of Rodney Dangerfield's other films fall under this rubric, along with Summer Rental, PCU ... the list goes on. The mother of all anti-snobbery youth films is Animal House, which features John Belushi against the administration and those proper fraternities filled with future generals and politicians. In the quarter century since the Deltas battled Marmalard and Dean Wormer, no film has really managed to match the originality and anarchic spirit of the original Animal House.

Old School comes pretty damned close.

The biggest problem in duplicating the energy of Animal House has been the Belushi gap. Any number of guys can fill in for the others in the cast, but how do you replace Belushi? People who worked with John in his stage days said that everything and everybody stopped and focused on him when he entered a scene. He commanded the stage completely, with the energy of a supernova. He had no governor on his behavior, and no limit on his energy. He could and would do anything in the world to get a laugh.

But there is one guy in the current comedy universe who commands similar respect from his peers, and that is Will Ferrell. Everyone who has worked with Ferrell speaks of him with the same awe that people once reserved for Belushi. Like the late samurai comedian, Ferrell is capable of infinite comic improvisations, lets loose hundreds of crazy characters and impersonations, and seems to have enough energy for a hundred men. Unlike Belushi, however, Ferrell has never been able to channel his peer-acknowledged genius into very much audience or critical respect.  Most of Ferrell's over-the-top performances in the past have simply been over-the-top, as opposed to funny. Sometimes he has fallen back on the kind of stuff that causes people to roll their eyes and think "this is dumb" - the whole school of stupid hair-dos, pratfalls, and flamboyant gay gestures, for example. Ferrell has been looking for the right vehicle that would allow him to set free his comic madness while still staying inside a believable character. He was looking for his Bluto.

He found it.

His performance as Frank the Tank, former fraternity madman trying to settle into respectable life, is nuanced beautifully. As opposed to Ferrell's usual energy which seems to exist solely for the sake of energy, in characters that seem like characters rather than people, Frank the Tank seems like a real guy. He's crazy, and can't handle his booze, but he's a real character, not a caricature. Farrell even brought some genuinely touching moments to Frank's relationship with his wife. And there is no question that Ferrell will do absolutely anything for a laugh. One moment he's tongue-kissing Stifler in a bizarre homage to The Graduate, the next moment he's running down an urban street stark naked, the next moment he's doing rhythmic gymnastics to the tune of Chariots of Fire, all of it tapped for every dyne of comic energy. He's one crazy mofo.

The premise of the film is as follows. Luke Wilson is a meek but talented real estate lawyer who comes home early from a convention to find his girl engaged in kinky sexual activities. He moves out on his own, scoring a recently deceased professor's home near a university. His two best friends (Vince Vaughn and Ferrell) see this as an opportunity to loosen up their friend while reliving the craziness of their own youth, so they somehow manage to convert Wilson's home into Party Central for the entire university. The Dean of the University, an old enemy of theirs, tries to get rid of them by having the land re-zoned for student housing and community service. No problem. The lads counter by pulling some legal strings to get the house officially declared a frat house. Because of a technicality in the college by-laws, they are not even required to restrict fraternity membership to existing students, so their roster includes the three thirty-somethings who star in the film, a few guys they know from work, some real students, and even an 89 year old homeless guy.


Will Ferrell shows in all in a streaking scene.

Lisa Donatz and Corinne Kingsbury are topless wrestlers in a KY-Jelly match.

Kristina Hughes plays a blindfolded naked chick in a sex scene.

From there, it's the steps you might imagine (1) uncontrolled mayhem from the fraternity until (2) the dean clamps down, whereupon (3) they lads must prove they belong or get even with the dean in some way.

The script and the rest of the cast are just OK. There is nothing very original. Vaughn is OK in his usual smart-ass way, but it is the Ferrell factor alone which lifts the film from smart-ass to kick-ass.

The one thing Old School lacks is the reality base of Animal House and Porky's. When I watch those two earlier movies, I can recall so many incidents from my school days that I can get lost in my own mental wanderings and forget about the films for a bit. They are comedies which gain humor from wild exaggeration, so they are not purely reality-driven, yet they are very much grounded in the reality of what it was like to be young and wild when I was young and wild. Old School, on the other hand, doesn't feel real. It is a completely contrived situation which was obviously concocted by comedy writers trying to be zany, as contrasted to the script to Animal House, which consisted of some comedy writers telling genuine (if embellished) anecdotes about their own youth.

DVD info from Amazon

  • all-new spoof: "Inside the Actors studio"

  • deleted scenes

  • bloopers and outtakes

  • widescreen 2:35:1

  • additional scenes not in the theatrical release

  • commentary from actors/ director

That sense of artificiality keeps Old School from being a masterpiece, but doesn't keep it from being one damned funny movie. Humorless critics didn't care for these lowbrow hijinks, but I laughed out loud a lot.

One of the ten funniest films of the millennium so far.


Old School (2003) was a financial success, but split the critics, and it splits Scoop and me as well. Everyone agrees that it is an attempt at lowbrow humor that some, like Berardinelli and Scoopy found hilarious, and others like myself and Roger Ebert didn't. I agree that Will Ferrell gave a strong performance, but this just wasn't my idea of humor. Scoopy reported laughing out loud, and I'm not sure I got as much as a broad smile out of it. I suppose the idea of 30-somethings trying to act like college students, and convincing the college students stretched my suspension of disbelief. And what was up with Ferrell, supposedly 36, streaking like he did in college? If he is 36 in 2003, that makes him 5 years old in 1972, the height of the streaking craze. He was a very young college student indeed. What it all boils down to, however, is how many laughs it gets, and for me, that was none.

The Critics Vote

  • Critical consensus: no consensus. Critical average: two stars. Roger Ebert 1/4, James Berardinelli 2.5/4, BBC 4/5

The People Vote ...



The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "this film is a C+. Not for everyone. Not for the crowd which worships "The Hours", but one kick-ass funny movie in which Ferrell shows why people consider him a comic genius. The rest of the cast delivers solid singles, loading the bases for Farrell's comic power hitting." Tuna says, "If middle aged men streaking, fat guys nailing a double somersault vault and sticking a landing, and a retired Navy guy dying at the sight of bare breasts sounds like your idea of a laugh, don't miss this. C+"

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