Based on a 1960 British film, School for Scoundrels tells the story of a low-confidence NYC "meter maid" named Roger. Roger is the kind of guy who gets mugged when he writes a parking ticket, gets bullied by his co-workers and passes out when he tries to ask his pretty neighbor, Amanda, out on a date. When he gets rejected as a Big Brother by a third student, a friend slips him a phone number to an underground class for men in need of backbone.
After turning over $5,000 in cash, Roger joins a roomful of other losers to be berated by angry, intimidating Dr. P and his beefy, creepy assistant, Lesher. Lessons include manly advice about taking what you want, becoming a lion (complete with photo slides of the beasts taking down prey and mating) and always lying to women about everything. When a paintball field trip demonstrates Roger's progress, Dr. P asks Roger to tell him a little about the girl he's after. To Roger's dismay, Dr. P immediately starts trying to bed Amanda himself, something he apparently does to challenge the best student in each class. Quickly, student and master begin a high-stakes game of one-upmanship to tear each other down and win the girl.
In this over-the-top comedy about men behaving either weakly or badly, the positive messages get a little slippery. Amanda, though portrayed as ridiculously gullible, is shown to appreciate Roger for his sweet-natured personality before he takes the class in "being a jerk for fun and profit." And I guess you could say Roger kind of learns that lying to get the girl is mostly a bad idea. Finally, some of the losers band together, defying Dr. P's teaching that "a friend is only someone between you and your goal."
Most of the sexual content involves crude dialogue and a running joke about homosexual rape. During the paintball outing, Lesher captures three of the losers and we see them in their underwear tied up and leaning over a log. Later we learn Lesher raped them and another character. (The film cackles, "Isn't that hilarious?")
In class, Dr. P draws a picture of a woman's breast and says repeatedly that all men "want the t-t." He urges the guys to "get some a--" and to "get laid." Roger's boss reads aloud a faked letter from Roger inviting him to have a homosexual affair. At one point we learn that Roger has just had sex for the first time. A crude come-on is spray-painted on a dog.
The violence in Scoundrels is built on the principle that if pain is the basis of all humor, then a guy getting hit in the crotch is the pinnacle of hilarity. Thus, the gag is employed using multiple paintballs, tennis balls, live electrical cardio paddles and old-fashioned kicking. Additionally, paintballs, tennis balls, tennis racquets, punches, shoves and slaps are delivered to all other manner of body parts for comedic effect.
Roger is also mugged by a couple of comic thugs who shoot at his vehicle. He's given a swirly by the office bullies. A confrontation between two characters leads to the aforementioned electrical shock. One of Lesher's rape victims ties him up and carts him off (at gunpoint) into the jungle for supposed revenge.
Crude or Profane Language
In addition to one use of the f-word and about a dozen s-words, the names of God and Jesus are abused about 15 total times. (Quite a few of those times God's name is combined with "d--n.") Also heard are more than 10 uses of "a--" (often combined with "hole") and five or so uses each of "h---" and "b--ch." Dr. P insults his students several times by calling them "retards."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Roger and the guys drink beers at a bar. On his date with Amanda, Roger gets falling-down drunk. It's the first time he's ever found himself in that condition, but when Amanda questions him, he insists he's been getting drunk since he was 11.
Other Negative Elements
Roger is seen many times (assumedly for giggles) in his small, white underpants and Speedo-style swim trunks. Another character is seen (from the side) urinating in the woods. I should note that Dr. P's self-confidence classes actually work onscreen. In reality, such exercises in belittlement can easily compound the problem.
School for Scoundrels is yet another film where the promise of concept and cast proves funnier than the execution. Who better to portray a loser stumbling his way into confidence than Napoleon Dynamite's ultimate loser-hero Jon Heder? Who better to deliver an acerbic, bullying, confrontational mentor-type than the always-cranky Billy Bob Thornton? How fun would it be to pit those two against each other?
Turns out, it wouldn't be that much fun at all. At least not in the hands of director Todd Phillips (already responsible for cinema duds Starsky & Hutch and Road Trip). His screenplay seems to be relying heavily on the fact that the performers will just "be funny." And though they can be seen swinging for the fences, said heavy hitters rarely connect. Also, we get no genuine humor born from any real consideration of what it means to search for manhood in modern America. Just too-familiar gags and another shot to the groin.