It’s not often that bottom-feeding college entertainment journalists receive phone calls from high-powered film studios begging to wine and dine them, screen advance copies of upcoming films and hold an open panel discussion with the film’s three lead actors. The Hollywood demigods must have had an especially therapeutic dermal peel the day they reviewed press arrangements for the upcoming film “Old School,” judging by the lavish accommodations and general pampering provided on behalf of its parent studio, DreamWorks. Several weeks ago, one selfless Artsweek journalist threw mores to the wayside, hopped in a car and prepared to eat up an all-expenses paid press junket weekend in Tinseltown. Oh, and the film? We’ll get to that later.
And so commenced this burgeoning reporter’s glitziest story to date. Upon arrival, the DreamWorks team escorted twenty or so other college reporters to the film screening across the street. In passing conversation, it became clear that Santa Barbara might have gotten the slightly shorter end of this junket’s stick. Journalists from as far away as Florida, Louisiana, Iowa and Pennsylvania had been flown in and now filed into the theater, but not before cashing in the tiny vouchers marked “one small popcorn” and “one soda.” Artsweek like. The lights dim, and after several DreamWorks trailers, the meat is on the table.
Judging by the trailers one has likely seen, “Old School” hardly presents itself your average college-aged hump-and-beer fest. Okay, so there’s still booze and booty, but having the lead characters be thirty-something men struggling with marriage, divorce and corporate strangulation helps make this film a little less “Animal House” and a little more, uh, well, “Animal House” with older dudes.
Mitch (Luke Wilson), Frank (Will Ferrell) and Beanie (Vince Vaughn) are all old cronies at various stages in the post-college downward spiral. Frank is recently married to a woman who clearly defines the term “anal-retentive,” while Beanie looms a few steps ahead with wife, kids and a booming chain of stereo stores. It isn’t until Mitch’s breaks up with his orgiastic girlfriend (Juliette Lewis) that he moves into a cheap house adjacent to a New York college campus and things get rolling.
Directed by Todd Phillips of “Road Trip” notoriety, this film seems to incorporate many of the shockstastic elements that make these sorts of film purely enjoyable in group settings. Phillips offers his audience yet another light-hearted, embarrassment-stuffed bit of post-adolescence humor (the film is R-rated), but this time delves into several less entertaining romantic side stories. Each character tackles some sort of commitment jam while managing to head a fraternity headquartered in Mitch’s bachelor pad. It doesn’t take long for their after-hours debauchery to start seeping into their everyday lives and unraveling almost as quickly as it sprung about.
It’s no shocker that Ferrell steals every scene he’s in, and even the one’s he’s not in. He struggles to keep his college demon, “Frank the Tank,” hidden, though the allure of a beer-bong can be resisted by few. Meanwhile, Mitch pursues a high school sweetheart (Ellen Pompeo of “Moonlight Mile”) while she remains in the clutches of her lecherous boyfriend (awfully acted by Craig Kilborn). The key word, though, has to be “cameo,” as actors like Leah Remini, Jeremy Piven, Elisha Cuthbert, that Stifler guy and even Snoop Dogg strut on screen. It must be said that absolutely nothing could possibly surpass Will Ferrell’s in-the-buck encounter with Mr. Dogg himself.
In the end, the film pulls out all the gags, including a vat of KY Jelly, cement blocks tied to genitalia and the three leads in a cheer sequence a la “Bring It On.” Have a barbecue, crack some tall boys and bring the whole damn gang if you plan on seeing “Old School.” Okay, so the movie lies a little on the incredibly implausible side and diverts into a few yawn-worthy sub-stories. But, like any good college party movie, it draws little on sentiment, heavily on illicit substances and reminds one why so many graduates seem to look back at college with that long-lost, beer-thirsty look in their eyes.
It was only after the screening that Artsweek learned the film’s three leads had sneakily been brought into the theater after the lights dimmed, able to watch the screening alongside their college interviewers while incognito. In any event, in a matter of hours they would be sitting mere feet away from the very same group, armed with tape recorders and pencils.
Bright and early the next morning, DreamWorks lulled minibar-ravaged reporters from their slumbers with a steaming breakfast buffet, not forgetting the bubbling mimosas. Delightful goodie bags were handed out, each one containing precious press trinkets like “Old School” coasters, flip flops, key chains and even those curious novelty store pens where the clothes disappear when turned upside-down, leaving dear Will, Luke or Vince in their skivvies. Sweet. Now Artsweek could give Valentine’s Day gifts.
Another buffet ensued, pre-press conference where journalists mumbled into their personal tape recorders, scribbled down questions to be asked and generally gave their best “Beat the Geeks” stumping so much so that Artsweek was quickly reminded how important it is to step outside for at least one half hour a day. Luckily, it was showtime and the celebs were ready to be corralled for the onslaught.
As preface, it needs to be mentioned that college journalists shared the intimate hotel conference room with none other than the internet press. One microphone would be passed among the salivating crowd, at a mediator’s discretion.
Question: Will, as a recent USC graduate, I know things can get a bit crazy on campus. Do you have any particularly crazy memories from when you were at USC?
Will Ferrell: I had a fair amount. What I would do on occasion is find out what classrooms certain friends were in and then dress up as a janitor and just show up in the middle of class. I would stand outside the door with a powerdrill and pretend I was working on stuff, and stuff like that. (pause) And I killed one person.
How did you go about researching for your roles? Were there any previous experiences in your lives that helped you develop the characters?
Ferrell: I’m the only one that was actually in a fraternity so, obviously, I’ve lived some form or variation. And I’ve also had to run naked before, sadly enough. So I could draw on that.
Luke Wilson: Honestly speaking, this isn’t the kind of movie where there’s much research to do. The script seemed pretty clear and I knew the guys I was working with.
Will, you apparently have no fear as judged by your streaking scene. What would it take for the rest of you to go streaking?
Wilson: Well, I know Will flew in his acting coach, Jim Beam, that night.
Ferrell: Great guy.
Wilson: That’s the kind of thing that really does make it impressive to work with Will. Because he has the guts to do something like that. Will goes for it in a good way and it kinda makes you want to try things yourself. Not going down the street naked. I wouldn’t ever have the guts to do that. But certainly do a good job on the scenes I was working on.
And Mr. Vaughn? What about you?
Vince Vaughn: There’s not enough booze in this hotel, honey. No, I think it’s good of Will, too, because I think it serves the story. It’s not a shot of him naked for the sake of being naked. (pause) Good times.
Vince and Will, was your skit on Saturday Night Live with the kitty cat toys your first time working together?
Ferrell: That was the first time that Vince and I met, the week that he hosted the show. That was actually one of my more favorite sketches of that year. If you haven’t seen it, Vince and I were very high-powered salesmen but we sold cat toys. We walked the walk, talked the talk and were just really macho – almost like stockbroker type guys – but then we’d sit down and test out the cat toys, play with them, bat them. We definitely enjoyed working together. At least, I thought we did. (Ferrell turns and stares at Vaughn across the table.) I mean, it was one of the greatest weeks of my life.
Vaughn: It was one of the bigger days of my life too, the cat toy skit.
Vince, you’re pretty well known for the movies “Swingers” and “Made” with Jon Favreau. Do you two plan on putting out any more projects?
Vaughn: We’ve had a movie [planned] for a long time, me and Fav. It’s just hard to get the money for it. It’s about a Hasidic Jew who’s a gunfighter in the old west. It’s not a comedy, as in, it’s funny because he can’t gunfight. He’s the baddest guy in the West. But, on Saturday he can’t shoot his gun cuz of the Sabbath. He can’t settle down until he finds the man who killed his family. I play a hustler from Chicago who sleeps with the wrong guy’s wife and have hit men after me. No one’s bid on it, but we’ll make it. Favreau is actually directing Will right now in “The Elf,” which is a big, new movie coming out soon.
– It was at this point that one woman, most definitely not a college journalist, seemed to finagle the mic and ramble off on a series of 1980s nostalgia-related questions, visibly perplexing both the panel and the audience. Still, these people are entertainers for reason. –
So guys, this film has a pretty rockin’ ’80s soundtrack. Are there any moments from the 1980s that you remember? Any particular song?
Vaughn: “99 Red Balloons” brings it all back to me. It just brings it home, all home.
Wilson: “Miami Vice.” I never missed an episode from the first one, ever. Just don’t ask me to choose between Sonny and Tubbs.
Soon, the press conference was neatly wrapped up and it was time for the final leg of the junket. Downstairs, the studio had assembled a room complete with a “frat room” set. Band posters were half-tacked to the walls while half-eaten pizza boxes sat teetering between beer cans on a busted coffee table. Here, the three stars grinned, mugged and sat somewhat awkwardly while the young press was allowed to snap some photos. Artsweek, being Artsweek, had forgotten a camera and ran frenzied to the hotel lobby for a disposable to catch this magical photo op. Upon returning, the doors were closed tight and a man with headset quickly remarked, “Sorry, just TV interviews now.”
Stepping outside the Plaza Hotel, where the press junket had been held, reality slapped Artsweek in the face. Glamorous celebrities were now scuttled away to their next media blitz and it was time to collect the treasure booty, precious tape recordings and head home. Though photos couldn’t prove any of it had actually taken place, the excitement wouldn’t fade for at least a few days, leaving Artsweek with a tiny keyhole peek into one achingly funny film and an utterly dizzying industry.