Film Reviews: Wednesday, May 09, 2002
Thin Is In

The New Guy uses lots of the old methods, but they work often enough.


Okay, so any movie that has Lyle Lovett being hit in the eye with a flaming marshmallow canít be all bad. This happens in The New Guy, a comedy that isnít all that new but has its share of laughs. Itís a profoundly conventional movie, one that, with a few changes, might easily have been made 25 years ago. Given the current state of teen comedies, however, this filmís reliance on old formulas comes off as somewhat refreshing.

After being terminally embarrassed in his current high school, Dizzy Gillespie Harrison (DJ Qualls) decides heís had enough of being a spastic, uncool kid. When he briefly lands in prison because of a psychotic reaction to some medication, he gets lessons in cool from his cellmate (Eddie Griffin). On the outside, he gets himself expelled from his school and starts fresh at a new school as ďGil Harris,Ē a bleached blond with a bad-boy attitude. The movie engages in the usual rigmarole about whether Diz will carry on with his life as a cool kid or be true to his roots and the people who were his friends when he was a freak. Itís all carried out with a real lack of urgency.

The movie marks the directorial debut of Ed Decter, a co-writer for Thereís Something About Mary. Like the Farrelly brothers, heís sympathetic to freaks and geeks without quite understanding them. The main difference is that, although he does engage in some toilet humor, he tones down the raunch, all the way down to PG-13. Because he canít rely on much shock value in the humor, heís forced to concentrate on things like directing actors, timing jokes, and building momentum within scenes. The material isnít always there for him: The parodies of movies ranging from Patton to Braveheart to Hannibal are mostly tiresome. However, it is there often enough. Thereís a scene where Diz beats up the campus bully at his new school and then realizes that itís gone for nothing because no one saw him do it. Heís forced to drag the unconscious and much heavier guy through the halls in an attempt to re-stage the incident in front of witnesses. The whole set piece generates a rolling laugh because of the directorís deliberate pace and the odd choice of Ravelís Bolero as background music. (The symphonic piece stands out in a movie whose soundtrack is dominated by 1970s-style funk.)

Qualls, a rail-thin actor with strangely proportioned facial features, is often cast as a comic sidekick. Itís tough to think what other Hollywood projects he might headline, but in this movie, at least, he does creditable work in the lead role. His sidekick makes him look good for the wrong reason ó without his stand-up material, Eddie Griffin is a leering caricature. Eliza Dushku is hot stuff (as always) as a cheerleader who falls in love with Diz. Even better, though, is Zooey Deschanel, who transforms the nothing part of Dizís uncool best friend into a willful and forceful personality, someone you feel could carry her own movie. All in all, The New Guy wonít change the face of moviemaking, but Hollywood has done much worse with comedies like these in recent years.

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