Day of the locusts

The cast of “Old School” keeps a press conference rockin’

Niels Strandskov

CENTURY CITY, Calif. – Will Ferrell can’t help but amuse. At a recent Los Angeles press conference, the star of the new Todd Phillips comedy “Old School” had the assembled college and professional journalists in stitches with his blistering humor and deadpan delivery. Opening the event, Farrell quipped that he and costars Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson had been checking the hotel for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. But, he cautioned, they had only covered the first two floors, and they needed “more time.” This spirit of hilarity imbued the entire press conference with a casual, relaxed atmosphere.

“Old School,” for those of you who missed the Super Bowl advertisement, is a wacky buddy movie that harks back to a simpler time. The three principals are glum professionals in their early 30s who decide (after some bouts of relationship trauma) to move back to their old college campus and form a fake fraternity. Casting in line with type, director Todd Phillips (who also brought us the peculiar “Road Trip”) sets Wilson up as his world-weary straight-man. Ferrell, of course, plays the goofy, slightly daft buffoon, with his trademark propensity for flying into a violent rage. Vaughn is a slightly domesticated ver sion of his character in “Swingers”: a fast-talking slickster who’s got a million schemes that never seem to work out quite as planned. If you’re looking for more in the way of plot, look elsewhere. “Old School” is analogous to a Three Stooges film ñ lots of gags, mostly slapstick, and not much else.

Despite the press conference being a drain on their schedules, the actors and director Phillips (who was interviewed separately from the cast) were relatively amiable about answering a barrage of questions from journalists at various levels of their craft. The notable exception was Vaughn, who chain-smoked through the interview, leaning as far back on his chair as physics would allow and staring menacingly through heavy-lidded eyes. Given the triviality of most of the questions, it’s a wonder the other interview subjects didn’t manifest the same disdain. At least four journalists asked some version of the question “What did you do to prepare for this role?” Given we are not talking about the latest Todd Solondz (“Happiness,” “Storytelling”) film, but rather the latest Todd Phillips movie, this seemed particularly inane. “Old School” is a buddy flick set in a wacky frat – how much more do you need to know to imagine who the characters will be and how they will interact? Other questioners displayed a marked lack of preparation. Wilson, Vaughn and Phillips were all forced to abashedly admit they had never graduated college. As the lone baccalaureate holder of the bunch, Ferrell good-naturedly answered most of the college-oriented questions. After describing a few mild hijinks from his own college days at USC, Ferrell quipped he had also killed someone.

Phillips, who was on the dais for just 20 minutes, was affable as well, but was clearly not expecting anything harder than the extra-puffy marshmallows that most of the journalists lobbed at him. When this reporter inquired about a scene in which Wilson, who plays a man in his early thirties, sleeps with an underage high-school student, Phillips professed to find nothing untoward about the scene, despite the current national climate of consternation regarding just such relationships. Perhaps Phillips is right to assume that the opprobrium which has ruined so many of late will give him a miss. After all, it would be hard to imagine anyone taking “Old School” for anything other than a light-hearted romp through some very well-trod territory.

“Old School,” directed by Todd Phillips. Starring Vince Vaughn, Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell. Opens Feb. 21.

Niels Strandskov welcomes comments at [email protected]