Nerd revenge is a hallowed cinematic tradition, so School for Scoundrels has a high bar to vault over. Savvy, then, of director Todd Phillips (Old School) to cast Napoleon Dynamite star Jon Heder as his sighing protagonist, because they just don't come any nerdier.
Heder's male meter maid, Roger, is such a milquetoast, he breaks down and cries when he's rejected as a volunteer Big Brother. But things change when he enrolls in a shady class in masculine chicanery, run by the oily Dr. P (Billy Bob Thornton, in top form). Under Dr. P's tutelage, Roger learns to embrace confrontation and gathers the courage to pursue the girl of his dreams. Trouble is, alpha male Dr. P has decided he wants the girl too, and Dr. P plays by Thunderdome rules.
It's the willfully cruel cat-and-mouse game between Roger and Dr. P that gives School for Scoundrels its moments of greatest glee; Heder's sly bravado meshes well with Thornton's slick charm, and their escalating acts of sabotage are well-scripted and a joy to watch. Yes, Heder is mostly recycling his awkward, desperate loner bit from Napoleon Dynamite, but he does it minus the irritating repellent orneriness, which keeps the film from wearing out its welcome.
There are some obvious flaws, but they're forgivable ones. The love triangle is sweet but regrettably generic. The stellar supporting cast--Sarah Silverman and David Cross, among others--seems underutilized, with the exception of Ben Stiller, whose turn as an old victim of Dr. P is funnier than anything he's done in years. And the story is dark enough that you'll find yourself wishing for a much unhappier ending than the one you're going to get. But while School for Scoundrels may not exactly wreck the curve, as misfit comedies go, it's just a laugh or two shy of the dean's list.