[Screen It]


(2002) (DJ Qualls, Eliza Dushku) (PG-13)

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Comedy: With help from an imprisoned convict, a scrawny and picked on high school student tries to reinvent himself as a tough guy at another school.
Dizzy Gillespie Harrison (DJ QUALLS) is a scrawny student at Rocky Creek High school who'd be invisible to the rest of the students if not for unfortunate mishaps and/or being picked on by the jocks. Living with his father, Bear (LYLE LOVETT), Dizzy spends most of his time hanging out with his friends and band mates Nora (ZOOEY DESCHANEL), Kirk (JEROD MIXON) and Glen (PARRY SHEN), none of whom are high on the school's social ladder.

Somehow briefly ending up in prison, Dizzy gets lessons about how to reinvent himself from convict Luther (EDDIE GRIFFIN) and then sets out to do just that. After getting himself expelled, he enrolls as at East Highland High School as Gil Harris, a tough cookie who won't back down from anyone and proves it by beating up school bully Conner (ROSS PATTERSON), who regularly picks on the likes of diminutive tuba player Ed Ligget (MATT GOGIN) and others.

Dizzy's cocky swagger and demeanor impress everyone at the school, including Courtney (SUNNY MABREY) and even Conner's girlfriend, Danielle (ELIZA DUSHKU). As Dizzy becomes the big man at the school and eventually causes most everyone to change the way they view life and treat others, he must put up with Conner trying to undermine him as well as how his newfound life impacts his relationship with his friends back at Rocky Creek.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Having received my fair share of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of bullies and other malcontents in my early scholastic years, I have something of a soft spot for similar victims when they appear in films. I want to tell them to inform someone, find a burly friend, or realize that it won't go on forever. In the case of Dizzy Gillespie Harrison - a scrawny kid who'd be invisible if not for being picked on - however, my advice to him is to run as fast as he can.

Not necessarily from the bullies, per se, but rather the horrible film in which he appears, "The New Guy." A sloppy and slapdash comedy from first time director Ed Decter (a writer on "There's Something About Mary") and screenwriter David Kendall (also making his feature film debut), the film might benefit from actor DJ Qualls ("Big Trouble," "Road Trip") physically fitting the part. Yet, beyond a random laugh or two, this tale of a 98-pound weakling doling out the comeuppance is a forced and ultimately pointless affair that even manages to bring the stupid comedy genre down a notch or two.

Since Dizzy doesn't have the script or box office advantage of having a genetically altered spider giving him the instant and rather effective makeover, he enlists the aid of a convict - played by Eddie Griffin ("Double Take," "Foolish") - to induce the Pygmalion-like effect.

How he manages to end up in prison with a hardened, veteran criminal is never really explained - although it's somehow connected to having a certain part of the male anatomy being snapped that shouldn't ever happen to anyone - and never makes much sense. Then again, the film and filmmakers fall into the same boat, as they don't seem particularly concerned with much of anything working from any sort of logic.

Big events and individual scenes come and go at random and are barely attached to the main plot thread -- that's shoestring thin as it is and never really does much with the basic premise. While there's nothing particularly novel about the thought of a scrawny kid having to deal with bullies and social inequality, it seems that the setup is present more upon which to hang Farrelly Brothers type gags and Zucker/Abrams type movie spoofs than to build an interesting, engaging or entertaining story.

Thus, while we get some material related to the resultant makeover/metamorphosis, we get just as much or more regarding erection and bathroom related jokes as well as spoofs of the likes of "Silence of the Lambs," "Patton," "Braveheart," "Risky Business" and even "Urban Cowboy" of all things.

There are even jokes about and/or references to "Pearl Harbor," Clint Eastwood westerns, "Full Metal Jacket," and bad kung fu films with exaggerated sounds. That would have been okay had the material been funny - even if spoof movies and gross out material have grown more than a bit old - but it's not and the filmmakers obviously don't know how to stage and then pull off such humor.

Instead, they simply seem to be copying others' efforts without taking the time to figure out what works and what doesn't. I suppose the one good thing about the film is that it will be a good training tool for future filmmakers about how not to make comedy, so at least there's one redeeming quality to it.

Not surprisingly, the performances are about on par with the rest of the material. While Qualls convincingly plays the scrawny geek, he's not as convincing playing the new tough kid or getting all of the other students to change their mean, disrespectful and/or otherwise antisocial ways. Everyone believed The Fonz to be a cool, tough character back on "Happy Days" (despite Henry Winkler being, well, Henry Winkler), but neither Qualls nor his transformed character is credible. Since much of the film and its humor ride on that being the case, everything consequently crashes to the table like an ill-constructed house of cards.

Eliza Dushku ("Bye Bye Love," "True Lies") reprises most of her cheerleader character from "Bring It On," but is present merely as a sultry piece of eye candy (the costume designer and a bikini montage make sure of that). Ross Patterson (making his debut) makes for a stereotypical and instantly forgettable bully, while Zooey Deschanel ("Big Trouble," "Almost Famous"), Jerod Mixon ("Me, Myself & Irene," "Bulworth") and Parry Shen ("The Privateers," "Shrieker") are unremarkable as the protagonist's friends, but maybe that's the point.

Despite receiving some prominent billing and attention in the promotional materials for the film, comedian turned actor Griffin isn't in the movie that much. When he is, he's pretty much reduced to playing - or is that overplaying - a caricature that's lame and repetitive and whose main attribute is manic, bug-eyed expressions (as accompanied by the sounds of a cracking whip).

The film is also filled with an assortment of cameos from stars, has-beens and little known "celebrities" such as Lyle Lovett, Tommy Lee, Gene Simmons, Henry Rollins, Vanilla Ice and Tony Hawk who inexplicably agreed to appear in this mess. Their appearances neither help nor hurt the film, but instead just make the viewer ponder what they and the filmmakers were thinking.

Lame, disjointed and worse yet, not very funny, this ungainly and clumsy film desperately needs a makeover as much as its protagonist. Unfortunately, it never received one and anyone dumb, brave or foolish enough to sit through it will suffer accordingly. "The New Guy" rates as a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed May 7, 2002 / Posted May 10, 2002

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