Pop Culture

Frat Packers just get better

So where was Owen Wilson while the other guys were filming “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”? Will Ferrell starred and Jack Black, Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller and brother Luke Wilson all managed cameos. But no Owen. Maybe it was an in-joke. Owen’s ultimate slacker role. So laid-back he didn’t photograph.

They are called “The Frat Pack” now because, like Sinatra’s original “Rat Pack,” they are friends who keep popping up in each other’s movies, and because nothing makes a journalistic career like noticing a trend or coining a term.

Entertainment Weekly was the first to give it a go, offering us “The Slacker Pack” in spring 2004. Nice, but at the time Stiller was appearing in six movies, hardly a slacker, so USA Today countered with “The Frat Pack,” which seems to have stuck. It beats “Slacker” in the Google sweepstakes 3,370 to 233 (as of this writing), and it reminds us of “Old School,” the boys’ semi-breakout hit in which a group of middle-aged men create a fraternity to recall the wild days of their youth. Fun is in the past, and in nostalgia.

Stiller and company have done something similar; they’ve created a fraternity to recall the wild movies of their youth: “Stripes” and “Animal House” and, unfortunately, “Neighbors” and “Dr. Detroit.” Fun may be in the past, but so is not-fun. See “Envy.”

Intense vs. laid-back
Each frat boy has his own persona. Luke Wilson is the handsome, lovelorn everyman, while brother Owen is the laid-back lothario who lucks into things. He succeeds without trying and this plays nicely against Stiller, who tries furiously but fails. Ferrell is the doughy man-child, and never funnier than when expressing honest emotions as either child (“Elf”) or man (“Anchorman”). Vince Vaughn plays the pal who needles the protagonist into action. Jack Black is pure anarchic intensity.

In fact, you could split up the fraternity along these lines:

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