Nice guy loser Roger (Heder) is the butt of everyones joke except the girl he fancies, Amanda (Barrett). He enrols in a confidence course run by the terse Dr. P (Thornton), but when P also takes a shine to Amanda, the gloves come off...
This really shouldn’t have been such a difficult movie to get right. It’s a remake, and it’s that ’put-upon-loser-gets-the-girl‘ formula that has been winning over audiences since Ealing Studios was in short trousers. On paper, it looks like a winner: two leads who’ve done these roles before, in a script that worked the first time.
But even if you’ve not seen the 1960 original (complete with a moustache-twirling Terry-Thomas), the lack of spark here becomes progressively more obvious. Director Todd Phillips makes a solid start, setting up his remake with no real problems: Jon Heder is harmless schnook and NYC parking inspector Roger, who after five minutes you do want to shake some confidence into, and can’t wait to see grow a pair. Jacinda Barrett is the lovely girl next door (well, next door-but-one), Amanda, whom he can’t bring himself to ask out.
Taunted by his colleagues, hated by strangers and even rejected by the kids he volunteers to help, Roger puts himself under the tutelage of Billy Bob Thornton’s tough-as-nails self-confidence guru Dr. P, and his psychotic and slightly prison-rapey ‘teacher’s aid’, Lesher (Michael Clarke Duncan).
That much, at least, works. There’s an assortment of gigglesome vignettes where the class (gold star for Moby-alike Todd Louiso, a stand-out) learn to stick up for themselves while shooting each other in the nuts with paintballs. Thornton goes for the bad-ass he perfected in Bad Santa, but what felt pitch-perfect there feels one-note here, and School starts to flunk out in the second half, when we wait and wait for a gear change that never happens.
Roger’s jealousy in seeing Dr. P focus his charms on Amanda should trigger a chain of escalating set-pieces. Phillips opts instead for Roger being outfoxed at every turn, never allowing our hero enough gumption to really make us care — or, more importantly, laugh. Napoleon Dynamite was a dork, but he was a dork with spirit, and what here should have been a strong sprint to its conclusion ends up as an out-of-breath stagger.
A script that suffers the same problem as its characters lack of confidence is in dire need of a fire being lit under its arse. All involved could do with learning a thing or two from some scoundrels of the dirty, rotten school.