Kathy Bates is getting plenty of credit for her fearless flash of nudity in ”About Schmidt,” but there’ll be no award noms for Will Ferrell and his commitment to bare-buttocks performance in Old School. On ”Saturday Night Live,” he went about as far as the network censors would allow, squeezing his wobbly, Jell-O-y self into teeny thongs whenever possible. But in this sloppy, slaphappy production — a variation on all boys-will-be-jerks frat-house comedies throughout recorded history — he spends long, long minutes with cheeks to the wind.
Ferrell plays Frank, newly married to a controlling wifey (Perrey Reeves) and trying unsuccessfully to pose as an adult. In fact, he’s longing for the old days of streaking, glugging, and horndogging with his equally undersocialized friends Mitch (Luke Wilson) and Beanie (Vince Vaughn). All three thirtysomething men have female troubles — women are, if not the enemy, then at least the mystery meat — so the lads decide to roll back the clock to a time when burping, bonging, and banging were de rigueur: They start a new college fraternity.
Cowriter-director Todd Phillips (”Road Trip”) first attracted attention with his buzz-of-Sundance 1998 controversial documentary ”Frat House,” and he no doubt mines that research here. More practically, though, he draws on the alumnus expertise of executive producer Ivan Reitman, from whose ”National Lampoon’s Animal House” all frat-prank movies flow.
Under Reitman’s deanship, Ferrell lets his freak flag fly and Vaughn unlooses a notably funny, light-on-his-feet lunkheadedness as a successful entrepreneur leashed by a wife (Leah Remini) and kids. Wilson, meanwhile, though not an especially impish house brother, is nevertheless treated to a fine, frowsy turn by the always surprising Juliette Lewis as a fiancée who ends up having a sexual appetite no simple frat boy could ever sate.