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Entries in New Guy/The [2002] (1)

Friday
Jun012012

The New Guy (2002)

Must've Been the Crazy Eyes

Need proof that film criticism is an unreliable science? Look no further than The New Guy, a movie I loved ten years ago. I watched it again recently, and questioned every opinion I've ever offered.

Could it be that I was such a sucker for poorly edited, PG-13 dick jokes in 2002? Or did Eliza Dushku's sultry changing-room montage cast some kind of spell over me?* Sure, the movie has promise, plot-wise, but many of the teen hijinks come off as edgy Saved By the Bell material at best. Not surprisingly, screenwriter David Kendall's background is in sitcoms like Growing Pains and the Joey Lawrence vehicle, Melissa & Joey--which may explain The New Guy's bizarre climax.

But I'm getting way ahead of myself.

DJ Qualls stars as Dizzy, a scrawny, funk-loving high school student who's always dreamt of being popular. Thanks to an unfortunate public encounter with a librarian, he becomes a laughingstock and gets hauled off to jail. His cell mate, Luther (Eddie Griffin), is a diminutive smart-ass who's avoided trouble in the joint by reinventing himself as a lunatic; when threatened, he unleashes the "crazy eyes" stare--a savage, bug-eyed snap of the neck that has its own whipping sound effect.

Luther gives Dizzy a crash-course in baddassdom, and then sets him on a mission to get kicked out of school. He does, in short order, and transfers to a district where no one has heard of him. Dizzy slinks about his new digs in leather pants, bleached hair, and a moody pout that gets the girls' attention.

You can probably guess the rest from here: Dizzy becomes popular at the expense of nearly losing the small group of misfit buddies from his other life (most notably a pre-QuirkTM Zooey Deschanel**). A couple of tough guys don't care for having their top-dog status usurped by a phony dweeb, and conspire to bring him down. And, of course, a hot cheerleader (Dushku) falls for the fake Dizzy and must later decide whether or not she can forgive his deception.

None of this is interesting, or especially well-executed. As I hinted before, The New Guy's last act is a rushed, confused mess that feels like the editor was asked to create a dummy reel with all the pacing and smooth transitions cut out. Parts of the story feel more contrived than usual, as if the run-time dictated which story points would be neatly resolved and which would be hastily stapled together.

Strangest of all is the movie's grandiosity. It feels as though director Ed Decter and company set out to make a comedy classic, and not just another high school comedy. It can't be cheap to re-enact Braveheart's iconic horseback war speech or to hire Gene Simmons, Lyle Lovett, Henry Rollins, and Jermaine Dupri (among what seems like a hundred other random, ridiculous guest stars) for a silly identity-shift comedy. But The New Guy has all the spectacle of a successful franchise. I have a feeling that, somewhere, a powerful studio executive is still smarting over blackmail pictures or tons of stolen coke money.

This outsized ambition gives the movie a charm that almost makes up for its poor quality. The plot may be generic, but the spirit is very specific. Decter and Kendall are, I assume, obsessed with funk--or at least one of them is. The New Guy could easily double as a PSA for music appreciation: James Brown is a staple here; Creed is notably absent, despite several now-hilarious references to the band. I also question the logic of including an homage to Patton in a movie aimed at teenagers. It could be that Dizzy's re-enactment of George C. Scott's famous address in front of a giant-sized American flag was meant as a generic pop culture reference, but I have the sneaking suspicion that the filmmakers were going for a recognition gag that was twenty years old before the script got greenlit. Mission not accomplished.

The main reason to watch The New Guy (outside of Dushku's pants-tightening dance--sorry, it's true) is for Qualls' and Griffin's chemistry. I would have preferred to see a prison comedy starring these guys, 'cause the film goes (comparatively) dead every time we leave the concrete confines. That said, if you're looking for a fascinating way to kill eighty-eight minutes, you could do much worse than this film. As a comedic exercise, it's a noble failure; as a filmmaking tutorial, it's a fantastic cautionary tale; as critical fodder, it's something to write about, I guess--kinda.

Hey! Not much has changed in the last decade, after all. Ten years on, I can still heartily recommend The New Guy.

*In my defense, the scene holds up quite well.

**In an early scene, she pops up wearing a pink cowgirl outfit at the mall, but that could be just as much the fault of the director or a drunk wardrobe assistant.