SCHOOL FOR SCOUNDRELS (Todd Phillips). 96 minutes. Opens Friday (September 29). For venues and times, see Movies, page 108. Rating: NN Rating: NN
There's an essential problem of balance in films like School For Scoundrels . We're torn between the idea that we're supposed to root for the pathetic loser underdog trying to find his self-esteem and the fact that it's fun to watch the aforementioned pathetic loser underdog be tortured by an actor with a strong line in comic sadism.
Indeed, watching losers get tortured reassures us that the universe is unfolding as it should. Billy Bob Thornton 's Dr. P may be a con man, but he doesn't apologize for breathing, and he not only abuses those who come to him for help, but also gets them to pay for the privilege -- though how any of these losers could come up with the five grand he charges is an interesting question.
Jon Heder of Napoleon Dynamite plays the mouse who roars, and an assortment of good comic supporting players are on hand, including Todd Louiso and Sarah Silverman , but School For Scoundrels is never quite as funny as I wish it were, or rather, it's never as consistently funny as its high notes -- most of which belong to Thornton.