‘Old School’ short of ‘Animal House’ originality

Ted Pigeon

Because most of the so-called comedies in recent memory are so horrendous, “Old School” seems like a better movie than it is. Director Todd Phillips obviously set out to rekindle the spirit of “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” which has been attempted countless times before, yet hardly ever achieved. “Old School” falls significantly short of Harold Ramis’ cult classic, but it is nevertheless an enjoyable film that offers several hilarious moments and an overall enjoyable movie-going experience.

The film stars Luke Wilson as Mitch, an ordinary guy in his early 30s whose normally run-of-the-mill life is turned upside down when he decides to leave work early one day only to find that his girlfriend has been cheating on him. He gets support from his two good friends, former college buddies Frank (Will Ferrell) and Beanie (Vince Vaughn), both of whom have realized that their lives are dull and borderline miserable now that they finally face adulthood. It is for this reason that they convince Mitch to start a fraternity outside a local college campus. The three friends turn Mitch’s suburban house into a frat house and begin recruiting both students of the local college as well as fed-up people like themselves of any age to be a part of their fraternity.

What follows is exactly what one would expect out of a movie like this. There is of course plenty of drinking and nudity as expected of the plot’s formula. The film definitely tries hard at every moment for laughs and, as a result, there are a lot of misses. Nevertheless, some of the sequences involving Frank (or “Frank the Tank,” for obvious reasons) and Beanie, whose nonchalant antics throughout the film are rather humorous. It offers a few small moments of humor, as well as a handful of truly laugh-out-loud moments, one being a scene involving a cameo appearance of Sean William Scott from “American Pie” and a tranquilizer dart. The scene is hysterically funny, and it drags out longer than one would normally think, adding to the overall hilarity of it.

Mitch and his fellow pledges eventually encounter problems with the college when the parties at his house become the talk of the campus and the legitimacy of the fraternity comes into question. Naturally, the dean of students finds it necessary to shut it down and does everything in his power, including bribery, to do so. After all, the movie has to have some sort of story or conflict; it might as well be the one that all the other movies have used. But it isn’t until the end that this movie completely caves in to its ridiculous plot and thus becomes laughably bad. Think of the final 15 minutes of “Billy Madison” and you’ll know what I mean, since “Old School” mimicks it.

The beauty of “Animal House” was the originality of it. Its boldness set a trend and spawned innumerable wannabes. Part of the greatness of that film is that it was the first of its kind and took chances that had never been taken before. That can never be duplicated no matter how hard today’s filmmakers try. The harder they try to duplicate “Animal House,” the further they are from rekindling the essence of it.

Though “Old School” is funny, well-paced and very entertaining, it’s just another recycled product that doesn’t take a single chance. Everything that it has to offer has been done before.