Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) started with nothing but through a combination of hard work and chutzpah, he started a chain of “Tall and Fat” clothing stores and made a fortune. Everyone has seen his commercials, the one where he asks his potential customers, “Do you look at the menu and say, ‘Okay?'” He has a new trophy wife named Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau) and a chauffeur named Lou (Burt Young). Thornton never even graduated from high school but he gets respect.
However, his son, Jason (Keith Gordon), doesn’t get no respect. No respect at all. Jason is a student at a pricey university, where he is bullied by Chas Osborne (William Zabka) and can’t get a date to save his life. Jason’s only friend is campus weirdo Derek Lutz (Robert Downey, Jr.). When Thornton sees that his son isn’t having any fun, he decides to go back to school!
Back to School is a predictable but good-natured comedy. It is like almost every other 80s college comedy except, this time, it’s a 65 year-old man throwing raging parties and making the frat boys look stupid instead of Robert Carradine or Curtis Armstrong. On the stand-up stage, Dangerfield always played the (sometimes) lovable loser but in the movies, Dangerfield was always a winner. In both Caddyshack and Back to School, Dangerfield played a self-made man who forced his way into high society and showed up all of the snobs. While Back to School is no Caddyshack, it does feature Rodney at his best.
Rodney may be the funniest thing about Back to School but a close second is Sam Kinison, who owed much of his early success to Rodney Dangerfield’s support. Kinison plays a history professor, who has some very strongly held views about the Vietnam War and who punctuates his points with a primal screen.
Also, keep an eye out Kurt Vonnegut, playing himself. Rodney hires him to write a paper about Kurt Vonnegut for one of his classes. The paper gets an F because Rodney’s literature professor (Sally Kellerman) can tell that not only did Rodney not write it but whoever did knows absolutely nothing about the work of Kurt Vonnegut.
So it goes.