Combining the writer-director of 'Old School' with the stars of 'Napoleon Dynamite' and 'Bad Santa' sounds like a recipe for a whole lot of fun; unfortunately 'School for Scoundrels' never really makes up the sum of its parts. 

The nerdish Roger ('Napoleon Dynamite's Heder) is a put-upon New York City parking enforcement officer with a bad habit of hyperventilating himself into unconsciousness when he's stressed. Unable to nerve himself up to ask his friendly neighbour Amanda (Barrett) out and rejected - again - as a volunteer at a kids' Big Brother programme, an acquaintance gives him a tip-off about a character-building night class taught by the enigmatic Dr P (Thornton).

Although the secretive class - like 'Fight Club', the first rule is that you don't talk to anyone about it - starts promisingly enough, it quickly runs aground. The students are quintessential losers while the teacher is an aggressive nutter who harasses and bullies them to build their confidence. The revenge of the wimps is an area ripe for comedy and there are some great moments when the film focuses on their efforts to turn their lives around and discover their "inner lion". Phillips, however, rapidly moves the action to an unmemorable battle between Roger and Dr P for Amanda's affections. It's not clear why on earth she would like either man and, although there are some good set-pieces, this film peters out long before the end of its 100-minute running time.

'School for Scoundrels', which is based on a British film from 1960, should have been so much funnier but it never really takes off. After an inspired performance in 'Bad Santa', Billy Bob Thornton sleepwalks his way through this film and Jon Heder looks set to get stuck in a Very Bad Rut as an ineffectual loser. Even cameos from a zonked-out Ben Stiller and sharp-tongued American comedian Sarah Silverman can't lift the film out of the doldrums. The report card for this 'School...' will say "could try (much) harder." A disappointment.

Caroline Hennessy