Todd Phillips has made a string of comedies -- Frat House, Road Trip and Old School -- all springing from bad male behavior, capturing the seeming link between heightened testosterone and reduced I.Q. Phillips' biggest success, Old School, shone probably not thanks to any directorial touch he brought to the material, but rather because he had a triumvirate of charismatic, funny leads in Luke Wilson, Vince Vaughan and Will Ferrell. In School for Scoundrels, starring Jon Heder as Roger, a nebbishy New Yorker who takes bad cad Billy Bob Thornton's dating confidence course, Phillips doesn't have three funny, charismatic leads; he only has one.
The fact that Jon Heder has somehow become a leading man is a mystery that will be puzzled over by future generations. Much like Owen Wilson in Bottle Rocket, Napoleon Dynamite exploded Heder onto the scene with a bravura performance in an independent film, a film full of the energy you get from a young actor giving a part everything he has. Unlike Wilson, though, Heder is a zero-charisma screen presence, a wispy, insubstantial figure who cannot hold his own against any other actor -- or even hold our attention. Some might make the case that hey, Heder's character is supposed to be a bit of a gimp in this film -- uncharismatic, not forceful -- but that's a load of hooey: Heder's Johnny one-note skill set is getting tired terribly, terribly fast.