Danny and Wheeler are two energy drink salesmen who promote a drink called "Minotaur" to school children, and encourage kids to stay off drugs. Wheeler loves the job, but Danny hates it, viewing it as a pointless, dead-end career. Danny's depression results in the collapse of his relationship with his girlfriend Beth, after he impulsively proposes to her. After a presentation at an elementary school, the duo find their Minotaur truck being towed, as they were parked in a no-parking zone. After an argument with the tow truck driver, Danny attempts to "drive" their truck free of the tow truck, damaging the tow truck, nearly running over a security guard and crashing into a statue. Both men are arrested and charged with assault and disorderly conduct.
Beth strikes a deal with the judge in which they have to log 150 hours of community service over the next 30 days, in lieu of 30 days in jail. They are to complete their service with Sturdy Wings, a big brother-big sister program led by Gayle Sweeny, a recovering addict. Gayle is aware of their court mandate and warns them that if they fail to meet her requirements they will be sent to prison. Wheeler is paired up with Ronnie a foul-mouthed streetwise miscreant obsessed with breasts, who has driven away all the other "Bigs" he has been paired with. Danny is assigned Augie, a nerdy teenager obsessed with medieval live action role-playing games.
Danny is unable to find common ground with Augie while Ronnie takes a disliking to Wheeler. Danny considers choosing the jail sentence, but Wheeler insists that if they go to jail, they will get raped. They gradually bond with their "littles". Ronnie and Wheeler share the experience of having been abandoned by their fathers while Danny learns about Augie's medieval fantasy realm. Ronnie takes an interest in Wheeler's favorite group, Kiss, and discovers that Wheeler shares his obsession with breasts, which Wheeler teaches him to control. Danny and Augie bond when they realize that they are both involved in the Sturdy Wings program against their will. Danny joins Augie's live action role playing game, "LAIRE" (Live Action Interactive Role-playing Explorers) and attempts to reconcile with Beth, but to no avail (Beth must commit to the break-up, stating that it is for the best).
However, their good luck is short-lived. When Augie manages to sneak up on the King of LAIRE, Argotron the King lies and tells everyone that he killed Augie. Danny, defending Augie, confronts and then pushes the King, and gets himself and Augie banned from LAIRE forever. Later, Danny insults Augie's mother and stepfather for refusing to support Augie's hobby, earning their hatred. As soon as Augie's parents kick Danny out of their house, Danny retorts, "I'd be psyched if he were my kid." Meanwhile, Wheeler takes Ronnie to a party and leaves him unsupervised, resulting in Ronnie walking home alone and a series of angry messages from Ronnie's mother, Karen, on Wheeler's cell-phone. Ronnie and Augie's parents ask Sturdy Wings for new mentors, and Danny and Wheeler are expelled from the program, thus failing to complete their community service. Beth says that she will defend Danny and Wheeler in court, but cannot make any promises, as they will eventually be sent to jail. Danny and Wheeler argue and go their separate ways.
Danny convinces King Argotron to allow himself and Augie to fight that afternoon in the much-awaited battle royale. Wheeler gets permission from Karen to hang out with Ronnie after he gets out of jail, and earns Ronnie's forgiveness. However, the King secretly warns the other members of Augie's LAIRE "country" of Xanthia that allowing Augie to fight with them will lead to severe retribution in the game. They call Augie to tell him he's too much of a liability and he has nowhere to turn. To form a new LAIRE country, Danny and Augie need four members and matching costumes. Danny asks Wheeler and Ronnie to join them. They arrive with Wheeler's Kiss costumes and a Kiss-themed Minotaur truck, naming their new country "Kiss-My-Anthia". After a betrayal by his former Xanthian allies, Augie finally duels with the king, defeating him. A hidden player, Sarah, who goes by Esplen in LAIRE, then attacks and defeats Augie; she is crowned the new queen and chooses Augie as her king-consort. Augie's parents forgive Danny.
Impressed with having seen that Wheeler and Danny care for the children, Gayle clears their names with the judge. Danny serenades Beth with a rendition of the Kiss song "Beth" and they happily reconcile.
The film was originally announced in December 2006 under the title Big Brothers, with Luke Greenfield directing and Timothy Dowling writing the script. A January 22, 2007, draft of the script credits Moses Port and David Guarascio as writers, with no listing of Dowling. During promotion for the film Knocked Up, Paul Rudd revealed that shooting on Big Brothers was on hiatus while the script was being retooled. News was later revealed that Rudd was commissioned to write a new draft of the script and David Wain had signed on to direct. Wain later revealed the film was now titled Little Big Men. UniversalPictures.com listed the film under the final title Role Models, which made its release on November 7, 2008. It was pre-screened at the University of Maryland's Hoff Theater on October 30, 2008 to positive accord.
A running gag in the film is a song entitled "Love Take Me Down (to the Streets)", which is claimed by Martin to be by the band Wings. In the initial scene at the Sturdy Wings building, Martin begins singing the song, which he claims is "one of their hits from the 70s", a fact which Danny denies. This is a minor recurring joke throughout the film. During the credits, the song plays and is listed on the film soundtrack as being performed by "Not Wings." The song was written by Charles Gansa, a composer who worked on the film, and A. D. Miles, who plays Martin in the film. It was written to imitate the style of the music of Wings and performed by Joey Curatolo, a Paul McCartney soundalike who performs in the Beatles tribute band Rain.
Role Models opened #2 at the box office behind Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa with $19.2 million. The film made a total of $67,300,955 domestically and $25,201,210 in foreign countries, for a total of $92,502,165 worldwide.
Role Models was met with generally positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a rating of 78%, based on 157 reviews. The site's consensus reads, "Role Models is a frequently crude, always funny comedy with the cast providing solid work throughout." On Metacritic, the film holds a rating of 61 out of 100, based on 33 critics, indicating "generally positive reviews".
In their year end review, IGN awarded Role Models with "Best Comedy Film of 2008". Eye Weekly selected Role Models as one of the best films of 2008.
The DVD was released on March 10, 2009 selling 1,028,207 during its first week generating $17,469,237 in revenue. As of August 10, 2011 the DVD has sold 2,555,713 copies and over $40 million in revenue.