After a long day driving home from a holiday weekend and the Phillies' painful loss yesterday-into-last-night, I wanted to veg out a little and wound up watching "Old School" on TBS. I'd never seen it before, but the basic premise--three guys in their 30s wanting to recreate the fun of their college years--isn't very remote or hard to grasp for me. The leads (Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell) are all pretty good comic actors, and Jeremy Piven as the Crusty Old Dean seemed like an inspired choice.
It's an okay movie. The gags are uneven, I didn't much care about any of the characters, and some of the last-act plot resolution comes off like the writers just didn't care at that point. But what surprised me is that it's pretty much thematically parallel to one of my favorite movies of the last decade, "Fight Club." Both stories essentially revolve around the unarticulated yearning of chronologically grown-up men to find something more "real," some experience that allows them to reconnect with their truer selves. In "Fight Club," it's beating the holy hell out of other guys whom you basically like (at least initially); in "Old School," it's joining a fraternity that allows for boozing, hijinks, and wrestling in KY jelly with teenage girls. The most affecting moment in "Old School" comes when two of Luke Wilson's co-workers, real estate lawyers all, surreptitiously approach him in the office and beg to be admitted into the frat; Wilson's approach is fairly close to Tyler Durden's famous dictum that "the first rule of Fight Club is... you do not talk about Fight Club."
The real parallels are in the second half of each film, when it becomes clear that both sets of participants feel more invested in their escapist pursuit than in their workaday lives. There's no match in "Old School" for Tyler Durden's migration of Fight Club from an evenings-and-weekends hobby to something resembling a revolutionary army, maybe because the characters aren't as developed--but the level of devotion was sufficiently high that I was half-expecting the frat members to simply kill off Jeremy Piven's dean. (Instead, he's ultimately done away with in a manner that first comes across as shockingly funny, then just frightening--and I write this as someone who's gleefully and somewhat pointlessly killed off fictional characters myself.)
I guess my mild fascination with this mostly comes from the question of whether the writers of "Old School" consciously picked up on a theme from "Fight Club," a movie with a lot more critical heft, to weave into their fairly formulaic comedy. The wiki entry does cite a supposedly intentional homage, though it wasn't one that I picked up on while watching. (The same section claims that Ferrell's "Frank the Tank" drives the same car as the inadvertent murderer Frank from my absolute favorite movie of the last ten years, "Donnie Darko." I didn't notice any other similarities between that one and "Old School," however.) I often think about how writers of conventional mass-market entertainment, most of whom have better taste themselves and probably experience some level of frustration at the knowledge that they aren't making High Art, work out their issues; maybe this is one such instance.