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That Moment in Old School (2003): Frank the Tank Returns

Sure, Mitch Martin may sound like a comic book character but in truth he’s just a regular schlub. But that’s not a bad thing. He’s doing just fine. He’s a successful lawyer with a nice house in the ‘burbs, a cute dog by the fireplace, and a darling girlfriend who affectionately waits for him while he’s away on those long business trips. Okay, “affectionately” really isn’t the right word if I’m gonna be honest. Maybe passionately is more like it. Or erotically. That might be better. It’s actually more than that. She watches hardcore porn while having sex with multiple partners at the same time, often while wearing blindfolds, so . . . you can decide. I’ll stick with erotic. A quick Google search for something more appropriate surely flagged me on some criminal database somewhere. Stupid search filters.

Either way, this is shocking for Mitch (Wilson). He finds out in the only way one can in movies, by arriving home early and walking in on the action. Seriously, that trope is so old I knew what he would walk into before he left the conference. The talk after doesn’t go well and not surprisingly, that ends that. His best friend Bernard (Vaughn) thinks he’s crazy though. A girl like her comes around what, once in a hundred years? Why would any sane man throw that away? But that’s Bernard. He’s already married and got himself a few kids. You know, one of those guys that loves his family but desperately wants to be anywhere else, as long as there’s beer and boobs.

The secret life-giving elixir gives The Tanks it's power.
DreamWorks Pictures

So Mitch winds up getting a new place, and it’s just about on campus near the local university. What a steal! He’s looking to settle in, make a fresh start, think about his life and find his way. His other best friend Frank (Ferrell) just got married, much to Bernard’s dismay, and when Frank and Bernard stop by to offer Mitch a little housewarming congrats, they get the idea that a party is in order. And not just a sit in the living room and tip back a few drinks party. A full on house party with sand and foam and lots of, yes, beer and boobs. And Snoop Dogg too, because, well, why not? Before Mitch can even realize what is being said, Mitch-A-Palooza is on! The party is a success, and in the process three things happen: a) Mitch becomes the Godfather of the campus party, b) Frank’s alter ego ‘The Tank’ emerges from a ten-year hiatus and decides drunken streaking is how best to celebrate, and c) the university Dean of students (Piven) stops by and, bummer alert, informs Mitch that his house is in fact now part of the university and he’s got to go! Oh, and that Dean used to be a kid named Cheese whom Bernard and Frank and Mitch used to torment back in the day. Circle of life thing. Or dish best served cold. Or, I don’t know. Some clever metaphor about irony and revenge.

But don’t be sad. The boys hatch a plan. As the university designates the house for community housing, Bernard decides to form a fraternity, kind of without telling Mitch. He’s already invited pledges. And oh yeah! The Tank got booted by his new wife so he’s crashin’ at Mitch’s as well. What’s Mitch to do? Say yes of course. Next thing they do is round up candidates and begin the initiation. Did I mention one of the pledges is a war vet who hangs around Bernard’s electronic warehouse store? A war vet from WWII that is. Shenanigans (yes, I’m using shenanigans) ensue and the mean ol’ Dean simply can’t stand how things are working out for the boys. He’s got schemes though. It’s all going to come down to a series of activities that will test the new fraternity’s resolution, including exams, debates and, um, school spirit (choreographed dancing for the win!). Meanwhile, Mitch has found himself falling for Nicole (Pompeo), a girl he’s known for a long time but just hasn’t made the right connection. She’s with a creepy, cheating boyfriend, naturally, and every time Mitch tries to make an impression with her, it goes opposite of how he’d hoped. He fails at every turn. What ever will be come of them? Hint: They get together. Have you never been to the movies before?

Old School doesn’t do much to upset the classic college party formula, except up the age of a few in the party. The boys go through the appropriate character arcs and all the lessons are learned, aside from Frank of course. He’s The Tank and always will be. The story is pretty familiar, but seems to want to go darker and dirtier than it ever does. It might have been a better time if it had, but instead restrains itself when it shouldn’t and goes a little too far when it absolutely shouldn’t. The men are childish and reckless and the women are achingly beautiful, yet this is Ferrell’s movie from start to finish, no matter who has top billing. The guy is endlessly watchable and completely fearless in working for a laugh. He earns every one he gets. Silly and tasteless, yet charming and fun, Old School is a cult favorite.

That Moment In: Old School

Scene Setup: Mitch-A-Pooloaza is in full swing. The kids are partying hard and Snoop Dogg is droppin’ da mad rhymes (sorry). Frank, after promising his wife he wouldn’t drink, is tempted by a few students pressuring him to shotgun a beer. If you don’t know what that is, get out more often and stop waiting for us to give you the answers to everything. He makes excuses but eventually gives in, and once that cold brew is on his lips, The Tank bursts on the scene. Transformed into a party animal, Frank becomes an uninhibited madman, drinking wildly and randomly licking boozed up girls. Then its off with his clothes . . .

Why it matters: I could see The Tank simmering under Frank for the entire start of the movie. I just didn’t know he was in there yet. Marrying for who knows what reason, he is a panicked mess at the alter, and just days later, is in the driveway tuning up the old street rod and crankin’ 80s metal tunes, clearing hiding from the adult life he should be leading (not that muscle car restoration and kick-ass big hair rock isn’t grown up). He’s sending us a signal. It’s fairly clear that Frank has been always like this, and his best friend Bernard has been the guy with the chair and whip, keeping him tamed. But ten years is too long for The Tank to be caged, and when the house party gives him a chance to escape, there’s no putting him back behind bars. Frank mostly becomes a kind of scene transition, like a swipe or dissolve, throughout the film, separating the semi-serious story chapters with oddball antics and bizarre behavior that is almost always hysterical. Need a way to end a scene between Mitch and Nicole? Have Frank come out in a bathrobe holding a cheap blow-up sex doll. Not sure how to end a kid’s birthday party scene? Give Frank a tranquilizer gun and let him shoot himself in the neck. Trying to find a way to end the strangely arousing oral sex lesson scene where an eccentric stereotype is using vegetables to teach a room full of hot women how to go down? Let Frank stop by and try to strangle the instructor. Haven’t got a good ending for the team spirit dance scene? Dress him as a mascot and set him on fire. Gotta move on from the house party and get to the next bit? Frank can get you there.

More: The movie doesn’t try to push any boundaries, invent something new, or even explore more about the interpersonal dynamics of the three leads. Seriously? Why are these guys even friends? Bernard, despite being extremely wealthy, living in a mansion, and able to hire Snoop Dogg on a whim, acts as if his life is somehow lacking. This doesn’t mean to say that wealth gets you what you want, but when I see his lush, beautiful home, his adorable children and lovely wife, I wonder just why on earth does he want to go back to scuzzy college drinking parties and dealing with running a frat? Has he really lost any freedom? He’s not looking for extramarital sex. He never flirts or even tries to hook up with any of the many hotties at the house. He even turns away a co-ed lookin’ for some fun. In fact he often has a kid strapped to his chest or one in tow. The guy’s obviously worked hard in his electronic’s business. He even stars in his own national television spots. Why is he in this movie? But we digress. This is about Frank. I have no idea what Frank does. He’s just Frank. And here he shows us just what kind of partier he once was and perhaps always will be. Let’s watch:

Do you love women? Duh. Of course you do. I do too, and the women in Old School are breathtaking. Yes, as party movie archetypes, these women are solid, unflinching stereotypes that populate every film in this genre, but you know what?  I’m not gonna rant about it. Instead, we’re going to embrace it and take a little joy in the fact that these women do have some depth and play their respective parts with charm and and a wink. Naturally, they are not meant to do much more than be the reason why the men run away or the reason why they come running. They are, for the duration, in service of the story, and by extension, to the men in the leads. That’s how it’s got to be. Still, they do have some fun. And as this is a male fantasy film, I have to accept a few things, such as believing these gorgeous girls meet, learn about, and practice their um, shall I say, “humming” skills together on carrots and cucumbers in the living room like it’s a Tupperware party. Why not? I’m a man. What do I know? Maybe that kind of thing happens all the time. (Please be true!) The part of us that enjoys Old School wants to believe it. I also wouldn’t mind dying at 90 while in a kiddie pool wrestling two naked college girls. Just saying. That wouldn’t be half bad. Most of the women in the film aren’t there for very long. A scene or two, and they’re gone. Only Marissa (Reeves), Franks’ wife, and Nicole have any real screen time. Marissa is the doting wife that at first brings fresh iced-tea to her man-child as he works on his muscle car but then eventually wants counseling and in the end let’s him go. Even she can’t contain The Tank. Good on her really. Nicole is the love interest, the one Mitch can’t stop thinking about, and therefore is the kindest, most down-to-earth of the women. She doesn’t go to sex education parties, and hasn’t a nagging bone in her body. In fact, she needs saving, because as we said, this is the male fantasy. Who else to replace that wretched boyfriend than our hero, Mitch? I love these women, and though their time is short in the film, they are the (second) best reason for watching.

I should talk a bit more about that oral sex lesson simply because I know it’s the only thing you’ve been thinking about since I mentioned it. The “class” is a belated wedding gift for Marissa from her girlfriends and is supposedly taught by an expert in the art of, um, taking care of Mr. Johnson. Well, that expert is actor Andy Dick, who was pretty funny on the television series NewsRadio, but here, as a flamboyantly gay sex education teacher is just wrong. While Old School never takes itself seriously, and certainly bends reality, in this, er, sword swallowing practice scene, reality is not just bent but lays shattered on the floor. Don’t get us wrong, I’m a big fans of well, the um depicted physical act . . . minus the cucumber (or maybe not!), and there are some very funny moments, especially involving the cucumber, yet how can I say this? The scene is ruined . . . by the Dick. Ba-dum-da. Thank you, thank you. Andy Dick feels completely out of place in the film. His absurdly, arguably offensive caricature is neither funny nor, let’s face it, even an expert as what he’s trying to teach. In fact, the entire scene feels as if it was an add-on, not propelling the story forward in any way, and appears to be a cheap way to have simulated oral sex on screen, which we will stress is one of the greatest ideas in the history of great ideas. We love it, but not, and we can’t say this enough, NOT with Andy Dick. To further add weight to the idea that this scene was never really thought out, I present these two images:

Pictured: Whoops

The one on the left is Frank about to attack Andy Dick’s character after seeing his wife seemingly providing some “service” to the teacher. Anyway, you’ll notice that there is a rather large bandage on his neck (circled in red for your viewing pleasure). Why does he have a rather large bandage on his neck, you ask? I’ll tell you. Because in literally the next scene, he shoots himself in the exact same spot with a tranquilizer gun. But wait! Why would he have the bandage on his neck BEFORE he shoots himself? That is a good question, grasshopper. Let me explain. I can’t. Clearly, the scene was meant to take place after the dart in the neck, but it was sloppily edited in the wrong order. Fine, continuity errors are bound to happen, but it seems to us that the scene was added just to pad the film and have the film’s beautiful women further advance the movie’s blatant male fantasy themes.

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 10.40.33 PM

I love a good party movie. Animal House, Bachelor Party, Superbad, there are so many great ones. Most deal with the same themes, with an underdog or dogs facing some cartoonish adversary, usually the Dean or rich frat boys or “popular” kids. The formula works and there’s not much point in tampering. I’m not paying to get a message. I want to see boys being stupid and girls with their shirts off. Mitch and Bernard and Frank have already lived that life but now they get a chance to do it again. Maybe it’s what every man wants, just one more time. Given the opportunity, I’d probably do the same. Once. Then get back to real life. There’s a reason is doesn’t last. But it’s something we all should experience. That’s what being young is all about. Looking back, I can remember the wild times, the crazy parties, the drunken hijinks and hook-ups . . . and be thankful that I’ve worked hard enough now so that I never, ever have to go through that again! Seriously! What were we thinking in those days? Shotgun beers? Party on, Tank!



Todd Phillips


Court Crandall (story), Todd Phillips (story)

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