The New Guy
best of our filmmakers have never lost touch with their inner child.
That sense of wonder has contributed to some of cinema's finest moments.
It's when the inner child becomes an inner teenager that we run into
problems, because of course, being a teen isn't so much a sense of wonder
as a sense of irritation and self-pity. In proper doses, it can be quite
funny to watch.
The New Guy
remembers how painfully awkward high school can be, and occasionally
succeeds in making it funny. But the movie also builds a sense of irritation,
as first-time director Ed Decter can't really decide what he wants it
to be when it grows up.
Harrison (DJ Qualls) grows up a nice quirky kid, determined to enter
his senior year of high school as more than just a blip on the radar.
But after trying to impress the head cheerleader ("if you wanted to
drink coffee near me sometime, I'd pay for itů"), Dizzy almost immediately
re-establishes himself as the school joke. (It's an ugly joke, involving
the tragedy of having hormones and getting yanked around because of
Due to a diagnosis
of Dizzy's problem as Tourette's Syndrome and not dorkiness, he ends
up overmedicated and in prison. Not just the drunk tank, because that
wouldn't strain the movie's credibility. This is an out and out penitentiary,
and Dizzy gets thrown in with the bull of the pen, Luther (Eddie Griffin).
Nobody messes with
Luther, who finds an improbably kindred spirit in Dizzy. So he teaches
the gawky youth how to be tough, and with the aid of the entire prison
(including the guards), creates a new identity for him: new kid Gil
Harris gets delivered
to a new school Hannibal Lecter-style, and rapidly uses his newfound
knowledge for evil. If not evil, at least to take over the school and
become almost as bad as his previous tormentors. Only due to a cutting
remark from his best friend Nora (Zooey Deschanel) does he try to use
his popularity for a higher purpose than bagging the head cheerleader
Danielle (Eliza Dushku).
Creating a perfect
high school environment, with no class divisions, is not only a noble
dream (and a wet one for the California legislature), but ripe for some
great satirical shots. But such promise never gets fulfilled. The unification
comes too easily, and the opposition to it too stupid (two lone bullies,
each from a different school, determine to bring down Gil). Eventually
the movie succumbs to its soft and gooey nature with a "just be yourself"
message telegraphed from minute one.
Despite some clever
dialogue, the movie flounders in its identity. It could be an examination
of high school class warfare, but stops past its vague definition of
Gil and his friends as "blips." (Of course, if they were really just
blips on the radar, then no one would notice them. So how come everybody
does?) Luther compares high school to prison, but beyond his little
monologue, the metaphor just drops.
And the film wants
to be really cool, with Gil/Diz being part of a funk band (Qualls lipsynchs
valiantly) and loving James Brown. So you'd think that maybe it would
load up with cameos from giants of funk, right? You'd be wrong.
Instead, it's a
paean to pop music fringe-dwellers, some whose coolness should have
kept them out of this project. At least most of them turn in
funny performances; an unrecognizable Vanilla Ice stands out as a former
bouncer turned record store clerk just dying to throw someone out violently.
But what is Tommy Lee doing there, not even playing a character, ostensibly
lured by the promise of an appearance by Creed. Oddly enough, Creed
doesn't appear, despite several mentions in the screenplay. This
is no way to run a cheesy rock exploitation movie, which it threatens
to become on occasion.
Yet with all that,
the leads carry the movie well enough. Qualls has a loopy charm. While
his caved-in frame makes it unbelievable that he could be the cool tough
kid (the kid who sort of bemuses everyone, maybe), his attitude carries
the hoax further than it has a right to go. And he has a good rapport
with Lyle Lovett as his dad, in a role well-played but not given nearly
enough to do. For the first time, I was amused, not annoyed, by Eddie
In a decent showcase
role, Dushku shines. Not because the part is that great, but because
for the first time in a while, her standard screen persona gets used
for a good girl. It shows that she has a little more flexibility than
her last few movies. Of course, we love Eliza for being a bad girl,
so Decter throws in a gratuitous bikini fashion show sequence. Both
Qualls and the audience weep for gratitude.
Heck, though it's
against my intent, I probably just sold an extra 500 tickets to the
What's It Worth?