What it boils down to is this ñ when a movie opens with a cameo by the guy who played Brad Hamilton's boss at Captain Hook's Fish 'n Chips in Fast Times at Ridgemont High as a wild-eyed cabbie who humiliates his fare, you know you're in for an instant classic. I was beginning to wonder what happened to the good old days of honest-to-god, R-rated comedies like Stripes, Fast Times, and the granddaddy of them all, Animal House (two of which, not coincidentally, were directed by Ivan Reitman, an Executive Producer of Old School). The Reitman/Animal House comparison is most fitting, not just because of the obvious frat house settings of the two films, but because Reitman's immature, laugh-out-loud comic genius is channeled in the form of sophomore director Todd Phillips. Phillips, who previously offered up the college-set and equally impressive Road Trip, has crafted the funniest film to hit the big screen in decades.
But a director is only as funny as his cast. What would have Reitman been without John Belushi in Animal House and Bill Murray in Stripes? And what about Amy Heckerling without the spot-on performances by Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli and Ray Walton as Mr. Hand? Todd Phillips made the wise choices of casting Will Ferrell (as Frank) and Vince Vaughn (as Beanie and, baby, is daddy back in a huge way.) If there were an Oscar for Best Comic Performance, it would be tough to choose between these two brilliant comic performances. Ferrell and Vaughn play two-thirds of a trio (rounded out by Luke Wilson as Mitch) of old college buddies in their 30s, each in the throes of realizing that adult-life is more complicated than they could've ever imagined.
The story opens with Mitch returning home from a business conference to find his girlfriend, the perfectly tarty Juliette Lewis, swinging with another couple. Mitch moves out and rents an off-campus house at the college where he and his buddies graduated from a decade earlier. Beanie, who runs a successful chain of stereo superstores (he even does his own commercials), conceives a blowout party at the house for Mitch's "re-circulation" celebration. The recently married Frank gets permission from the wife to attend the party only if promises not to let Frank "The Tank" rear his ugly head. To say that things get out of hand is a gross understatement.
But when the Dean (a tremendous job by the always reliable Jeremy Piven) claims that the house can only be used for official school purposes and attempts to evict Mitch, Beanie, a consummate schemer, hatches the plan to turn the house into a fraternity and open the membership beyond the student body. What results is a pledges class of dorky students and misfit adults who suddenly look up to Mitch as "the godfather."
The plot doesn't get much more complicated, and you'll be laughing too hard to care. Ferrell confirms what we had suspected from his SNL days ñ he's one of the biggest comic talents of this generation. And with a fellatio-instruction scene to rival that of Phoebe Cates and Jennifer Jason Leigh (which includes a cameo that deserves an honorary Oscar for utter hilarity), you will be heading right back to the box office to purchase tickets for an encore. This is the real deal ñ a sidesplitting comedy in a time when we could all sure use a good laugh.