“Tenure,” and what a laid-back associate professor will sacrifice to get it, is the subject of tyro writer-director Mike Million’s college-set laffer. Luke Wilson revels in the role of a brilliant teacher whose tenure track is derailed by his failure to publish or ingratiate himself with colleagues, deans and chairpersons. But aside from Wilson and departmental rival/romantic interest Gretchen Mol, the pic’s faculty seems to have been shipped in wholesale from a high school comedy, with puerile gags to match. Blowtorch Entertainment’s debut production, as yet unskedded for release, may prove too safely middlebrow for mass consumption.
Having already failed at more prestigious universities, Charlie Thurber (Wilson) sees Gray College as his last chance to grab the academic brass ring. The odds are in his favor until prestigiously published Elaine Grasso (Mol) joins the English department. Egged on by his best friend, Jay Hadley (David Koechner), an anthropology prof whose obsession with Bigfoot put the kibosh on his own tenure bid, Charlie reluctantly agrees to actively campaign against his sweet, attractive colleague, inevitably winding up helping rather than sabotaging her.
Besides, any interactions with women take a back seat to Charlie’s many ill-advised, borderline idiotic misadventures with Hadley, from toilet-papering the dean’s house to investing in an herbal aid for sexual potency, as well as innumerable Bigfoot-tracking expeditions. These do yield some of the pic’s better absurdist gags; less strident, though ultimately more rewarding, are Charlie’s visits with his professor emeritus father (a sardonic, scene-stealing Bob Gunton) in a nursing home.
Though partly shot on the Bryn Mawr campus, “Tenure” never anchors itself firmly enough in academia to successfully parody it. Not that the teachers are too petty or stupid to be believable, but their pettiness and stupidity — revolving around lifted toilet seats and purloined Cokes — lack specific academic coloration or context. Aside from some excellent thesping by Wilson and Gunton, and a hilarious extracurricular turn by Rosemarie DeWitt, the cast brings little sophistry to the table; Mol’s perf is as romantically understated as Koechner’s is farcically overblown.
Stalled somewhere between a comic Mr. Chips-ian character study and a National Lampoon campus spoof, the underwhelming pic never finds its focus.