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The New Guy

  the new guy
Eddie Griffin reminds DJ Qualls that he should never touch his stuff.

© 2002, Columbia
All Rights Reserved

With a "Star Wars" picture, or even this summer's latest "Austin Powers" installment, there is a certain amount of lengthy nervous waiting to be done before the final product is finally unleashed on the public. "The New Guy" (IMDb listing) features the same kind of nervous anticipation, but by now it's closer to dread, as the film has been on the shelf now for over a year. For all that time, I've been anticipating it with all the excitement of a shirtless Robin Williams visiting a duct tape factory. And now the waiting is over.

Dizzy Gillespie Harrison (DJ Qualls, "Road Trip") is a high school nerd. Involved in a funk band with his fellow outcasts (including the delightful Zooey Deschanel, "Almost Famous"), Dizzy longs for acceptance and glory. When a school prank leads Dizzy to prison, he meets another inmate (Eddie Griffin) who teaches him the tough guy ropes. Changing his appearance and enrolling in the different high school, Dizzy becomes Gil Harris, the new popular guy on campus. And faster than you can say "Screenwriting Workshop," Dizzy soon ditches his old friends for the campus hottie (Eliza Dushku, TV's "Buffy The Vampire Slayer") and the adulation of the school.

During the long dormant period on the shelf for "The New Guy," many films have tread the same raunchy, grossout, poorly written trail of tears. Even recently with the obnoxious "Van Wilder," filmmakers seem to believe they have the magic potion to find belly laughs no matter what stupidity they put onscreen. "The New Guy" follows the same template, heaping lames jokes one after another in the hope that something will stick and make those that went before seem not so bad. But they are.

Consider these: Dizzy has his genitalia broken by the school nurse; the school bullies stick a smaller classmate in a garbage barrel, then roll him down a hill; Dizzy videotapes the principal having a rather painful bowel movement; Dizzy's friend keeps wondering aloud if anything he does is "too gay." The film is packed with bizarre references to mid-1990 pictures ("Con Air," "Braveheart") without rhyme or reason, and various cameos pop up throughout, servicing no particular purpose. These range from the interesting (Lyle Lovett, well cast as Dizzy's father, Henry Rollins as a prison warden, Tony Hawk as, well...a pro skateboarder, and rocker Tommy Lee, who gets the award for providing the film's only laugh) to the senseless (Gene Simmons as a preacher, Charlie and Jerry O'Connell as superfans, and Vanilla Ice as a Sam Goody bouncer).

Laughing yet? I wasn't either, but "The New Guy" is pretty convinced it's funny. And when the script can't come up with laughs, it relies on the brittle shoulders of DJ Qualls, who is making his lead debut here. Qualls can be hilarious, as evidenced in Todd Phillips' underrated 2000 gem "Road Trip," but he is not a generator of laughs all by his lonesome. Like any good actor, Qualls needs a crackerjack script to sell, not fifteen minutes at the end of the shooting day where he is allowed to make all sorts of faces and gestures that must've killed the crew, as I cannot fathom why these moments have made it into the film. Qualls's rather aggressive performance of bug-eyed antics is just wrong for a movie already desperate to find anything of comedic value. He's miscast as the extrovert, when his superpower is playing the lanky, quiet kid in the corner.

Co-star Dushku also has trouble, with her single best onscreen moment coming with a mid-movie bikini montage. Crude to mention, I know, but she's such a better actress than this movie has room for, it's downright scary.

"The New Guy" sadly lives up to all expectation I had for it. Expectations that were just waiting to be shattered. Hopefully this is the beginning of the end for raunchy teen comedies. I don't think my heart could bear another train wreck like this.

Filmfodder Grade: D-

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