The crowd-pleasing new comedy Role Models qualifies as easily the most commercial project of David Wain's career, largely since the rest of Wain's oddball post-State oeuvre (Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten, Stella, the clever online series Wainy Days) is defiantly, even perversely non-commercial. In Role Models, Wain buys into the sturdy commercial formulas he's spent his career mocking, but the results are so winning that they threaten to give selling out a good name.
American Pie's Seann William Scott and longtime Wain collaborator Paul Rudd (who also co-wrote the script) star as two rudderless energy-drink pitchmen who are a study in contrasts: The sour, sarcastic Rudd leads a joyless life, while Scott is an overgrown kid who seems geeked to have a job where he can dress up in a ridiculous costume and ride around in a sweet-ass truck. After an unfortunate series of events, Rudd bottoms out by crashing a company vehicle. He and Scott are sentenced to mentor young people, and paired with a sweet, geeky role-playing enthusiast (Superbad's Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and a prepubescent troublemaker played with scene-stealing brio by Bobb'e J. Thompson.
In its loose, ramshackle, gleefully profane first half, Role Models suggests School Of Rock with Tourette's, or the original Bad News Bears without the baseball. Children plus bad behavior plus constant profanity proves a winning combination. But in its inferior second half, the laughs subside and valuable life lessons begin in earnest. The emotionally stunted men predictably have much to learn from their youthful charges, but Rudd and Mintz-Plasse do a good job of hitting the expected emotional beats without devolving into sentimentality. It helps that Wain packs the films with pals and comic ringers from the improv world, particularly the always-welcome Jane Lynch as the head of the mentorship program; somehow, she manages to make helping troubled youngsters seem much creepier than her constantly referenced past as a coke fiend. It's another element that confirms Wain's ability to work within the system without becoming a slave to it.