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Old School

(2003) ** R
91 min. DreamWorks. Director: Todd Phillips. Cast: Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, Jeremy Piven, Ellen Pompeo.

Old School is the sort of bad movie that constantly threatens to turn into something good, mostly on the strength of a few talented actors. Here, those actors are Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell, and Vince Vaughn, serving under the tutelage of Todd "Road Trip" Phillips. The resulting zany comedy plays like Fight Club meets Animal House (heavy on the Animal House, partly because that film's director, Ivan Reitman, executive produced Old School).

Wilson plays Mitch Martin, a nice guy stooge who can't quite get it together. After a train wreck of a breakup from his oversexed girlfriend (Juliette Lewis), Mitch finds himself vulnerable to the opportunistic wiles of his buddy Beanie (Vince Vaughn), the schmoozily successful proprietor of electronics retailer Speaker City. Beanie decides that what he, Mitch, and their pitiable newlywed friend Frank (Ferrell) need is to hang on to their youth by starting a fraternity.

The details of this plot machination are best left to the experts. But suffice it to say that this unlikely scenario leads to many hijinks: the friends humiliate an old enemy, now the dean (Jeremy Piven), arrange ragers and KY-jelly wrestling matches, and must climactically save the frat by passing a series of elaborate mental and physical tests.

I liked Old School less and less as it wore on, character comedy souring into cheap shots like Ferrell injecting himself with the tranq gun of Seann William Scott (that's right, three minutes with Stifler from American Pie!). One particularly tasteless sequence finds Andy Dick as an Emo Phillips-coiffed blow-job instructor, exemplifying the hit-and-miss nature of the "outrageous" humor. After losing most of its steam, the film regains some clever cred in the climactic testing clinch (here, Ferrell earns his paycheck by schooling James Carville in a debate competition and utterly failing--while dressed in a tiger suit--to clear a ring of fire).

The film's best asset, though, is Vaughn, working his trademark motormouth: he's a charmer with a stilletto. In one of the film's simplest--and best--bits, Vaughn blurts "Earmuffs!" to his young son--a signal for the boy to cover his ears so Daddy can swear. When Vaughn disingenuously wraps up a toast by saying, "I'm not a talker, I'm not a talker," you know you've heard something laughable.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround

Street date: 12/16/2008

Distributor: Paramount Home Entertainment

Paramount's all-around solid but dull Blu-ray transfer of Old School looks its age: it's perfectly acceptable, but it lacks the crispness and pop that would send DVD owners racing to double-dip. If you don't already own Old School and want to, however, the picture quality does get a noticeable upgrade here--just not a dramatic one. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track is certainly definitive, though it's of little consequence to a movie like this one, which sports something less than a dynamic mix. Also of note: the Blu-ray preserves the Unrated edition previously offered on DVD.

A guy's club feature commentary with writer-director Todd Phillips, Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn, and Owen Wilson is fun for fans of the considerable talents involved, as they mock each other and generally avoid talking about anything serious. Eight scenes comprise "From the Cutting Room Floor" (13:19 with "Play All" option): "Early Flight Home," "Legal Advice," "Beanie's True Colors," "Planning Max's B-Day Party," "Mitch Visits Dean Pritchard," "Original Locker Room Scene," "House Inspection," and "Frank's Soul Mate."

"Old School Orientation" (13:02) is a standard EPK-style featurette with the stars, producers, and director commenting on the film amidst clips. "Inside the Actors Studio Spoof" (13:39) gathers Ferrell as Lipton, Ferrell as himself, Wilson, Vaughn, and Phillips for one of Ferrell's patented Lipton-skewering skits. It was obviously thrown together as a lark, and the results, while not exactly comedy genius, are reasonably entertaining.

Rounding out the mirrored Blu-ray and DVD releases are "Outtakes & Bloopers" (5:04), the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:28, HD), and 3 "TV Spots" (1:36 with "Play All"). For fans of Old School looking to regift their DVD copy and upgrade, the Blu-ray is an improvement, but with no new features, it may be a toss-up for even the most devoted fan.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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