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The New Guy (2002)

Cynthia Fuchs

What the heck is Jermaine Dupre doing here?"

The New Guy

Director: Ed Dector
Cast: DJ Qualls, Eddie Griffin, Eliza Dushku, Zooey Deschanel
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Revolution Studios
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2002-05-10

At the start of The New Guy, inmate Luther (Eddie Griffin) shuffles his way into some kind of prison visiting area, sits himself down on the other side of the wire partition, and proceeds to relate the story of Dizzy Gillespie Harrison (DJ Qualls, the skinniest white boy in Road Trip). Luther's investment in this story is minimal -- he's enlisted by Diz to instruct him in the arts of swaggering and zapping people with the "crazy eye" -- but jeesh, he sure spends a long time talking about it.

Despite the fact that Griffin is getting so much airtime in the film's promotional spots, the bulk of The New Guy is about the decidedly uninteresting Dizzy, as he decides to "revamp." Diz's dilemma -- feeling alienated and geeky -- is longstanding. Luther introduces him as a child (Matthew Lee Pelosi), jiggying and singing along with James Brown on tv. This kid, in Afro wig and golden boxer shorts, is somewhat comical. But within seconds, he's grown up into Qualls, who is less (he's not untalented, but he is stuck here with a profoundly one-note characterization).

High-school-aged Dizzy is a serious geek, riding in the car with his white-trashy, trailer-dwelling dad (Lyle Lovett) and Dizzy's band, the Suburban Funk, apparently devised from the one-from-every-food-group school of casting -- shy white girl Nora (Zooey Deschanel), overweight black kid Kirk (Jerod Mixon), and nerdy Asian kid Glen (Parry Shen). At school, Dizzy serves as the primary butt for jocks, cool kids, and bullies' jokes; in one instance, they tie him to a chair with strapped on rubber breasts, a sight that someone, somewhere probably finds hilarious, even if that person was not at the screening I attended. However, the target audience for the joke where an old lady grabs Dizzy's hard-on and "breaks" it, earning him the name Broke-dick, was quite pleased to be there.

Tired of being so abused, Dizzy gets himself expelled from school, heads off to the local prison, and gets himself schooled by Luther. Just why Luther takes him on is never explained, except that he also remembers being the butt of mean jokes in high school (in fact, Luther says high school is very much like prison: "The sex you don't want, you ain't gettin'. The sex you gettin', you don't want"). With a new haircut and few clumsily montaged lessons (how to fight dirty, pimp-walk, and deliver worlds of pain), Diz becomes Gil Harris, and enrolls in a new high school where no one knows him. Or, as Luther puts it, he's gone from "bitch to bull." As soon as he gets there, he does what Luther's told him: find the cock of the walk and beat him down in front of an audience.

This particular cock, Conner (Ross Patterson) happens to have a perfect cheerleader girlfriend, Danielle (Eliza Dushku -- and what has gotten into our beloved Faith?), who believes Gil's tough guy act. Truly, she needs glasses. (And truly, she needs a new agent: one "shopping" sequence, under the guise of demonstrating Gil's willingness to spend the day doing boring girl stuff, turns into a lengthy series of bikini-modeling shots, with Danielle pouting her lips and swishing her hips so that Gil can sweat and moan and thank God for his new existence.)

It might appear that the premise of The New Guy inverts the usual high school movie hierarchy, gender-wise, anyway. Instead of the awkward girl letting her hair down and being crowned prom queen, here the inept boy wins hearts and minds, and gets to perform wholly unmotivated parodies of Silence of the Lambs, Braveheart, Risky Business, and Patton. Whoop-dee-do.

To its meager credit, the film doesn't quite subscribe to a mindless inversion. Once Gil becomes the belle of the ball, he doesn't just become the next cock, but decides instead to do the right thing, raising up the rest of the "lowly" high school population and encouraging everyone to get along. This means that the girls with braces, the kids in wheelchairs, and Ed (Matt Gogin) the little person trombone-player, are all invited to sit with the cool kids. Moreover, everyone starts conversing without using foul or demeaning language.

But this ostensibly generous inclination (which one might also attribute to Something About Mary, for which director Ed Dector was one of many writers) hardly mitigates the film's prodigious stupidity and general meanness -- the geeks are the butts of unfunny jokes, even if the jokers are punished and the geeks rewarded. It's not quite so pathetically unplotted or even so offensive as, oh, Freddy Got Fingered. Instead, it's merely monotonous. By the time Gil is plunking his dad in the eye with flaming marshmallows, you know you're deep in the belly of this beast.

So, the loser gets over, gets found out, then wins the day anyway. This might be a happy ending, except you're left wondering just why Lyle Lovett, Jermaine Dupre, Kool Mo Dee, Henry Rollins, Vanilla Ice, Tommy Lee, Gene Simmons, and Tony Hawk all signed on for small roles in this goopy movie where the finale has the kids' band performing "Play that Funky Music (White Boy)" -- how original. I imagine a few of them -- Vanilla Ice, Tommy Lee -- have bills to pay, but what the heck is JD doing here?

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