Old School is exactly what director Todd Phillips intends for it to be: low-brow, moronic to a fault, and occasionally side-splittingly funny. I laughed aloud seven or eight times during this film, and smiled or chuckled on a few additional occasions. Admittedly, considering the bawdy, brainless nature of the humor, there were times when I was almost embarrassed to be laughing, but that didn’t stop me. In an era when a viewer is lucky to find one or two humorous moments during the course of a 90-minute so-called “comedy,” Old School delivers with surprising effectiveness.
Mitch Martin (Luke Wilson) is an average middle-class guy whose life is thrown into a tailspin when he discovers that his live-in girlfriend, Heidi (Juliette Lewis), is into an alternative lifestyle that involves multiple partners. Fleeing his broken relationship, Mitch moves into a low-rent house on the outskirts of nearby Harrison University. Egged on by his best friends, Frank (Will Ferrell) and Beanie (Vince Vaughn), Mitch turns his new digs into a fraternity house for anyone who wants to pledge – young, old, student, non-student. Mitch’s house is soon the most popular place on campus, which leads the straitlaced, vindictive dean (Jeremy Piven) to begin a campaign to close it down.
Luke Wilson, an adept low-key comic performer, manages to keep his dignity throughout the proceedings, which is something of an accomplishment. His character gets to have some fun, such as sleeping with 24’s Elisha Cuthbert (playing a girl who looks older than the age on her driver’s license). Dignified is not a word to describe Will Ferrell, whose most memorable moment occurs when Frank is drunk and buck naked. Vince Vaughn’s usual stiffness isn’t a distraction; he’s in his element. Supporting players include a priggish Jeremy Piven; Ellen Pompeo (the only good thing about Moonlight Mile) as Mitch’s would-be love interest; TV talk show host Craig Kilborn; and Juliette Lewis, who is mercifully in only a few short scenes.
The span of topics for Old School’s jokes doesn’t range far and wide. Nearly every gag (and certainly every one that works) involves sex, nudity, drinking, male stupidity, or some combination of the above. (Plus, there’s an unforgettable rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” featuring some… shall we say… “alternative” lyrics.) Like Phillips’ earlier effort, Road Trip, and older antecedents along the lines of Animal House, Old School cares little for providing a cohesive narrative or presenting characters. These things are inconsequential devices to move from one joke to the next. If the viewer’s intention is to have a few laughs, this movie gets a passing grade. If you’re looking for a more complete cinematic experience, Old School has a few too many absences.