Reliving the wild life in ‘Old School’

The latest from writer/director Todd Phillips (“Road Trip”) is just the type of flick whose previews seem to elicit the perplexing “I think I’ll just wait for the video” response.

What is last month’s zany coming-of-age film? Honestly, it is about as worthwhile as last month’s takeout. The only relevance that this film has is that for the next couple of weekends, theaters across the country will be packed with “now-people” laughing their now-heads off. At work the next day, these now-people will tell their friends that they’ve gotta see it, and if those friends do, an avenue of lively conversation will be opened. If, instead, they decide to hold out for a couple of months and rent the video, the point will have been missed. “Old School” will no longer be the zany coming-of-age film of the moment, and our heroes, Mitch, Frank and Beanie, will be officially “of age” and no longer really useful for anything.

Your local video outlet is packed with hundreds of slightly different versions of this film, and they no longer have any relevance except to someone who saw them when they were “now” and hopes to relive the era. If not to bring back memories of Sally Ex-Girlfriend, why on earth would Bill Ex-Boyfriend rent “Home Fries” or “Can’t Hardly Wait”? Personally, the latter of those films opens a dialogue with a certain time and certain people, but only because I was there. Someone who hadn’t ever seen the film before couldn’t possibly be expected to get anything out of the experience.

So don’t get me wrong: I’m not trashing “Old School.” It was hilarious, thanks, at least in part, to theater packed with hyenas. Luke Wilson, as Mitch, is a perfect lead, playing the misunderstood “nice guy” with David Arquette’s fumbling grace. In the grand tradition of the romantic comedy, Mitch is a sucker and easily manipulated, creating the tensions between his character and Nicole (Ellen Pompeo). Wisely, the drama in this film is generally relegated to the off-screen realm, and the viewer is only shown a conflict and its nice, clean resolution. The ending is truly astonishing in this respect, as the viewer gets the absolute briefest possible synopsis of the, apparently dramatic, events that would lead Nicole to leave her charismatic-but-sleazy boyfriend (Craig Kilborn) for Mitch.

This method of scripting allows the film’s zany coming-of-age aspects to overshadow what is essentially a romantic comedy, much like the Farrelly brothers did with “There’s Something About Mary.”

While this process does remove all possibility of convincing emotional connection between characters, the filmmakers were wise enough to understand that such issues were not at all the point. The point was to give people something to talk about, constructing scenes that were better suited for water-cooler chatter than the building of trust and openness between Mitch and Nicole or Beanie and his family would have been. As Frank, Will Farrell provides the zaniness in spades with his constant yelling, falling over and showing his naked ass. While the audience is distracted by this display, Mitch and Beanie, virtually ignored by the camera, are engaging in the relatively dull business of “coming of age.”