THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


The New Guy feels like the one-millionth teen comedy I've seen in the past five years. Because I grew up in the era of John Hughes, I've always been fascinated by the genre, although I have to admit that the good ones seem few and far between these days. Last Christmas, there was one aptly titled Not Another Teen Movie, and that's how I'm starting to feel. I remember when these kinds of pictures used to be about something. Perhaps it wasn't anything deep, but the effort was at least there. The New Guy just reassembles a bunch of cliches, none of which it takes seriously. Even that might have been okay if the film had actively satirized those cliches.

Convict Eddie Griffin gives advice to high school geek DJ Qualls in The New Guy
DJ Qualls (Road Trip) stars as Dizzy Gillespie Harrison, a high school geek who is part of a group referred to as the "Blips" because they barely make a blip on the social radar. He is the kind of kid who routinely gets his underwear pulled up over his head by the jocks. Dizzy is so frustrated by his inability to get any respect that he starts to act up. The school nurse (Illeana Douglas) incorrectly diagnoses him with Tourette's Syndrome and prescribes some medication (school nurses aren't certified to prescribe meds, but that's a technicality this movie can't be bothered with). The pills make Dizzy go a little crazy, and he ends up spending a night in jail. It is there that he meets Luther (Eddie Griffin), an African-American convict who takes Dizzy under his wing. Luther teaches Dizzy how to be a bad-ass. Among his advice: find the toughest-looking dude at school and beat him up while everyone is watching. Armed with a new look and a new attitude, Dizzy transfers himself to a new high school under the name Gil Harris. He immediately beats up the school bully, Conner (Ross Patterson), thereby attracting the attention of his classmates, particularly class beauty Danielle (Eliza Dushku).

Keeping up his image as the school psycho isn't easy. Part of it involves - say it with me now - ditching his former Blip friends after he starts to gain popularity. He also has to continually show up Conner, which he does by appearing at football games dressed as Gen. Patton or Mel Gibson in Braveheart. The rest of the drill will be familiar to you: Danielle falls in love with Gil, who is really Dizzy, who is afraid that she won't like Dizzy, so he keeps pretending to be Gil. Got that?

Part of the problem with The New Guy is that it's an R-rated film trapped in a PG-13 body. Like so many movies today, it is squeezed into a rating that will allow it to cater to teenagers, even though the material screams for more irreverence. For example, a very early scene finds Dizzy talking to a pretty girl and, uh, subsequently standing at attention. An elderly librarian grabs him by the member in order to drag him to the principal's office. Her grip is so firm that when Dizzy backs up, he ends up pulling the old lady in her chair. Now, you could make the argument that this scene could have been really funny (I won't necessarily agree with you, but you could make it). Unfortunately, the scene has to be staged so that you know what's happening without really seeing it, and that causes the whole joke to collapse under its own weight. By being so careful not to show too much, the editing totally distracts from what's happening. It feels awkward when it should be hilarious.

Here's another example: you know those annoying music montages where characters spend four minutes trying on different outfits while pop music blasts from the soundtrack? This film has a totally gratuitous montage in which Danielle tries on a series of revealing swimsuits while dancing around like a stripper. It's clear that the filmmakers wanted to have some T&A, but they stopped themselves short of where they really wanted to be. Either way, the scene would have been offensive for the manner in which it demeans the actress, but if you're gonna be sleazy why only be half-sleazy? At least have the guts to do what you want.

I think there's a decent idea buried in here somewhere. When Dizzy first transformed into Gil, I momentarily thought I was going to like the movie. Let's face it: bad-asses have always been popular in high schools. A comedy exploring this phenomenon could be really enjoyable. But The New Guy ain't that movie. It's filled with over-the-top gags that go nowhere, pointless celebrity cameos by everyone from Vanilla Ice to Gene Simmons, and silly slapstick that fails to hit the target.

That said, I must confess a major oddity about the film. As dull and witless as it generally is, there were two scenes that made me laugh as hard as anything in any movie this year. I'm going to blow them, so if you don't want to know, stop reading. The first is a scene in which Gil stages an entrance at his new school by showing up in a prison wagon, completely restrained like Hannibal Lecter. Armed guards drop him off in front of the school as horrified students look on. The other gag involves Dizzy accidentally lobbing a flaming marshmallow at his father's eye (it's the special effect that's funny, not the concept). Two really hysterical moments in a movie that is otherwise embarrassingly unfunny. I am reminded of John Waters's brilliant comedy Cecil B. Demented, which imagined a Forrest Gump sequel wherein the title character remarked, "Life is like a crabcake. There's some good stuff surrounded by a lot of crap."

( 1/2 out of four)

The New Guy is rated PG-13 for sexual content, language, crude humor and mild drug references. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.

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