After two comedies (“Wet Hot American Summer,” “The Ten”) loaded with cult appeal that failed to dent the box office, David Wain aims for the mainstream with “Role Models.” Laden with more than enough profane humor to warrant its R rating, this is nonetheless a formulaic crowd-pleaser whose outwardly crass, soft-centered conceit would work as well for Adam Sandler or Eddie Murphy. All to the good, however, that it’s tailored to the equally impeccable comic chops of Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd. Steady laughs and upbeat word of mouth should make this a solid if unspectacular fall performer.
Los Angelenos Danny (Rudd) and Wheeler (Scott) work for energy-drink company Minotaur, driving a novelty monster truck to schools where they — Wheeler costumed as hairy “Minotaur Man” — plug their legal-high product via facetious “Just say no to drugs!” pieties. It’s a no-brainer job that suits Wheeler fine, leaving him free to obsess 24/7 over his only real interest, which is getting laid.
Danny, however, thinks he’s wasting his life. Feeling a need for change, he impulsively proposes to longtime girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks), but she’s so fed up with his sourpuss attitude that she dumps him outright. An already horrible day ends in a tow-truck altercation that leaves the two boy-men facing 30 days in jail on various charges.
Beth, a lawyer, manages to cut them a deal for 150 community service hours instead. They’re handed over to Sturdy Wings, a big-brother-type mentoring program run by Gayle Sweeney, played by Jane Lynch as a one-woman Molotov cocktail, equal parts perky, stern and lunatic.
Wheeler gets assigned Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson), a fatherless 10-year-old with a vile temper and filthier mouth. Sarcastic Danny gets Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, “Superbad”), a consummate teenage dork with no friends outside the realm of his ultra-dweeby live-action medieval fantasy role-playing game.
Needless to say, these forced pairings do not start well, though with equal predictability, bonding does eventually occur — if not always in the most age-appropriate ways. There’s also no great surprise to the adult blunders that nearly wreck these intergenerational relationships, or to the big, climactic setpiece in which the guilty parties make sacrifices that prove they care after all.
But if the material has a formulaic feel and the dialogue often skews more rude than clever, “Role Models” nonetheless amuses throughout. That’s in large part due to the stars, whose roles very much play to their familiar comic strengths: Scott’s manic, borderline-demented party animalism and Rudd’s ability to knock a line out of the ballpark with a deadpan bunt. Supporting turns, kids included, are also nicely done down the line. Lynch commits grand theft of scene after scene; Banks, seen to fine advantage in concurrent “W.” and “Zack and Miri Make a Porno,” gets little to do as the sole character not allowed to be funny.
Pacing is brisk and tech aspects are pro, though, in line with most recent comedies from the extended-Apatow-family camp, pic seems allergic to the notion of even attempting visual stylishness.