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School for Scoundrels

MPAA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPAA) PG-13 for language, crude and sexual content, and some violence

Reviewed by: Robert A. Kouba

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens, Adults
Comedy, Remake
1 hr. 41 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
September 29, 2006 (wide)
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Featuring: Billy Bob Thornton, Jon Heder, Jacinda Barrett, Michael Clarke Duncan, Dan Fogler
Director: Todd Phillips (“Old School”)
Producer: Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein, Hal E. Chester
Distributor: Distributor: The Weinstein Company. Trademark logo.
The Weinstein Company

“Life’s a game. Learn how to play.”

Ever had one just of “those days?” It seems that Roger (played by “Napoleon Dynamite”’s Jon Heder) has had one of those lives, judging by the amount of self-help literature by his bedside. Donning his meter maid outfit, Roger continues along in a seemingly thankless existence, while others constantly use him as an object of ridicule. He finally breaks down after being “fired” as a Big Brother for the third time. All is not lost, however, since the leader of the Big Brother organization used to be just like him. Hope lies just a phone call away… well, a phone call and __,000 in a manila envelope.

Enter the world of the “School for Scoundrels” (actually the class has no name) led by smarmy Dr. P (portrayed with vicious charm by Billy Bob Thornton). With the help of a Goliath-like assistant Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan), Dr. P will crush any self-confidence you have and replace it with the attributes needed to become a lion in the world’s jungle. As one might expect, the exercises in the class put the students in awkward situations which are then supposed to illicit laughter at their misfortunes. However, Roger is able to rise above these small setbacks and rise to the occasion. He gets an attitude and stands up to past bullies, which is funny, since he can never physically back up his trash talk. He is also able to start pursuing an unrequited love interest—…his neighbor Amanda. One might say that he is becoming the star of the class.

It seems that his troubles are just beginning, since Dr. P likes to strike down any star pupils. His favorite method? Stealing their newly acquired girls for himself. What ensues is a teeter-totter of pranks to force the other man to back down. However, it seems that while Roger’s actions are good enough to teach someone a lesson, Dr. P can always dig deep enough to pull out something really dastardly. So what can Roger do to turn the tide? He recruits a former rising star of Dr. P’s (Ben Stiller) along with some other classmates, including SNL alum Horatio Sanz, in order to make one final stand for the woman he loves.

The movie itself is much of what you would expect. Humor is sporadic and usually the result of slapstick-type situations. The film is written/directed by Todd Phillips who is responsible for films such as “Road Trip,” “Starsky and Hutch,” and “Old School.” Therefore, it is not surprising that the film skirts the line on occasion in its appropriateness. Along with crude humor and language, you will also hear about 35 expletives including one f-word and ten uses of the Lord’s name in vain. I was also appalled at the brief insinuations that Lesher is a male rapist.

On a higher level, films of this nature tend to refute the wrong teachings instilled by the teacher. However, it is never brought about as being wrong or frowned upon. Credos such as “lie, lie, and lie some more” are introduced and never fully resolved. Perhaps this is how we are meant to see that success must be achieved. I myself am wondering how the 1960 film “School for Scoundrels or How to Win Without Actually Cheating!” handled the subjects. Since most of the lessons learned fly in the face of spiritual truth, and there is no real mention of God except for the aforementioned expletives, I also think it is safe to say that the movie lacks any moral edification.

In the end, because of general inappropriateness and a misguided message, I would recommend a matinee or rental only—and even that is a little generous. While I want to like Heder’s character Roger, I wonder what kind of man he turns out to be. His closing remark is “those that can …do, and those that can’t… teach.” If Thornton’s Dr. P is the teacher, what does that make Roger? A nice guy rejecting this worldly point of view or the student who has superceded the master?

Violence: Mild / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—Wow, this movie was the most unexpectedly stunning film that I have seen in a long time. I expected another funny Jon Heder film, and that’s almost how it started, but it went many unexpected places after that. This movie is very much about the whole idea of being a successful human (some people’s versions of this) and also about revenge in general. I never expected anything that happened. There was not a single point where I could figure out what was going to happen next, or what was really going on. Spectacular! This movie made me want to shout and cry and laugh. I found myself wanting to be one person, but rooting for the other. If you don’t mind a bit of swearing, then I’m sure you could appreciate this film. My only complaint would be about the unexplained use of the word “rape” as well as a bit more slapstick than I would have liked. All in all, good film.
My Ratings: Average / 3
Matt Woelk, age 18
Positive—I saw this with my best friend, and during the whole thing we couldn’t keep from laughing. Yes, the swearing was an issue, and it made us uncomfortable, but in the end, the story line was good. I am a writer, and I couldn’t help but wonder why someone hadn’t done this before. This movie made me cry, laugh, and, of course, a little mad. I do not recommend taking your immature teens to see this film, but older teens would enjoy it. It’s too bad they had to add all of the swearing, it would have been even better if they hadn’t.
My Ratings: Offensive / 4
Rose, age 27
Negative—The movie wasn’t bad as far as the story goes, but I took my youth group and was embarrassed to have them in there. The “g_d” word is used many times, and the f-word is used once. If you are offended by profanity, I wouldn’t advise seeing this movie. …
My Ratings: Very Offensive / 3
Megan S., age 24