Marijuana plays only a minor role in Todd Phillips' ("Old School," "Road Trip") movies, but it appears to work wonders on the films themselves.
As Phillips recalls, "People have been like, 'Look, man, "Old School" is a great movie, but me and my friends got stoned and watched it. Dude; it's like "The Godfather!"'"
Of course, not all fans of the films directed by Phillips and co-written with Scot Armstrong --including "Starsky and Hutch" and their latest, "School for Scoundrels," an update of the 1960 British flick "School for Scoundrels or How to Win Without Actually Cheating!"--enjoy the comedies in a late-night, pot-induced frat house haze. But the flicks have all caught on with (predominantly male) audiences who seem to prefer watching them in packs.
It's fitting for the work of a filmmaker who says he has always been interested in "inherently awkward" male relationships and guys' need to belong to a group. "School for Scoundrels" is no different, with Jon Heder starring as a weak-willed meter maid who--along with other spineless nice guys--enrolls in a confidence-building class taught by a guy's guy (Billy Bob Thornton) to win the heart of his neighbor (Jacinda Barrett).
The film is another in the recent swell of films like "You, Me and Dupree" and "The Last Kiss" about guys who need a push towards maturity.
"This film is not so much about not wanting to grow up; it's about not knowing the steps to take to get there," Phillips says. "Billy kind of represents the last hope for these guys, who've probably tried other things and jumped through other hoops and Billy's kind of the last stop."
Phillips says he doesn't think there has been a wave of films about men acting like boys, citing "Stripes" and "City Slickers" as two of many predecessors of the topic. Rather, he says recent films are reflecting that people's lives move at different speeds than they used to.
"Probably the real theory is that they say that 60 is the new 40, right, so that would make 30 about 17," he says. "Which seems to be the problem is that we've just started growing up later and later in life. The truth is you're not really expected to have your [stuff] together until your early '30s. Which probably awhile ago you were expected to have it together a little sooner."
As far as comedy goes, Phillips has had it together for awhile, developing an increasing roster of comics like Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Andy Dick and others that have starring roles or cameos in several of his movies. The director says that he always tries to give the comedians freedom to try anything, and that Ferrell in particular is up for anything, including going streaking in "Old School."
"[The idea of] running naked down a street in Montrose, Calif., was not even a 10-second conversation," Phillips says.
That anything-goes attitude translates to the screen, and Phillips says that whether people like his movies or not, they always say, "Boy, it looked like you had a lot of fun making it." Supporting characters in "School for Scoundrels" played by Sarah Silverman, David Cross, Matt Walsh and others helped contribute the spontaneous environment on-set, Phillips adds.
Many of his cast members are immediately recognizable, but even though Phillips isn't a familiar face--he's given himself tiny parts in "Old School" and "Road Trip"--he still occasionally gets recognized by fans. And it's always for his famed line in "Old School."
"I was eating dinner with my mom a month ago in L.A.," Phillips recalls. "These firemen came up to me I'm sitting there with my mom--she's clearly my mom, she's 60 years old--and they go 'Hey.' I look up, and they go, 'I'm here for the gangbang!'"
The lasting impact of this line shows fans' love for the 2003 flick, which Phillips and Armstrong are counting on as they work on the script for "Old School Dos." Phillips says he has discussed the sequel with Vince Vaughn, Luke Wilson and Ferrell but they are not involved as of now, and he will not make the movie without them.
In the meantime, time will tell if "School for Scoundrels" becomes another film like "Old School" that brings people together, whether they're stoned or not.
"[That sense of camaraderie is] how a movie really gains its popularity, and 'Old School' has really found its way into the culture thanks to those repeated viewings," Phillips says. "I think again it goes back to weed. It has a lot to do with those movies just getting way, way better when you're high."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times