The teen comedy may not be dead, but "The New Guy" is the type of dumbed-down exercise in stereotypes that gives the genre a bad name. Directed without much flair by Ed Decter (making his inauspicious film debut), the movie yearns to be a goofy, feel-good romp about the lengths one must go to join high school jocks and geeks in perfect harmony, but it remains off-puttingly mean-spirited.
For as long as he can remember, Dizzy Gillespie Harrison (DJ Qualls) and best buds Nora (Zooey Deschanel), Kirk (Jerod Mixon), and Glen (Parry Shen) have been the brunt of ridicule at school. Tired of suffering through his senior year at Rock Creek High, Dizzy purposefully gets himself expelled and transferred to East Highland High. Before making his grand appearance at his new school, a stop in jail leads to a crash course on acting cool by friendly inmate Luther (Eddie Griffin). Once at East Highland, he discovers that the cliques run rampant just like at his old school, but he successfully wins popularity after beating up the class bully (Ross Patterson) and winning the heart of cheerleader Danielle (Eliza Dushku). The art of being popular, however, means sacrificing the respect of his tried-and-true old friends for a group of artificial ones.
A cross between "Never Been Kissed
," "10 Things I Hate About You
," and, now that I think about it, every teen comedy released in the last 15 years, "The New Guy" has been equipped with a shallow screenplay, by television writer David Kendall, and some of the sloppiest editing of the year. So messy is the storytelling that the sequential placement of scenes occasionally make little to no sense. For example, Dizzy makes several trips to jail, but there is no reasoning for why he has been sent there in the first place. At another point, Dizzy catches completely on fire, and in the next shot, his clothes aren't even singed.
DJ Qualls, so winning in 2000's "Road Trip
," is one of the few reasons "The New Guy" is actually tolerable. A charismatic, unconventional performer who always manages to be likable, Qualls is a person worth rooting for. Likewise, Eliza Dushku (2001's "Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back
" and 2000's "Bring It On
"), as kind-hearted love interest Danielle, has a radiant presence that is mostly wasted on run-of-the-mill cliches. Her big moment in the spotlight is an extended montage where she models bikinis for Dizzy as if she's on a runway in Paris.
The less said about the supporting players and pointless cameos, the better. Some good actors are present, including Zooey Deschanel (2002's "Big Trouble
" and 2000's "Almost Famous
"), as Nora, and Illeana Douglas (2001's "Ghost World
"), as a horribly inept guidance counselor, but this film should stand as an embarrassment on their resumes.
Further cementing the desperation on the filmmakers' parts are unfunny take-offs from scenes in "Braveheart," "Patton," and "Urban Cowboy." As far as I can tell, the only reasons "The New Guy" was ever filmed was to (1) show off an admittedly fun soundtrack, and (2) to soak a few dollars out of unsuspecting teen audiences. The joke will hopefully be on the studio, as actual teenagers are far smarter than this movie purports them to be.
©2002 by Dustin Putman