Saturday, December 13, 2014

Review: The New Guy (2002)

The New Guy (2002)

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, language, crude humor and mild drug references

The New Guy is one of those movies that I loved when I was in middle school, and so, looking to relive some '00s nostalgia before it became cool (Disney Channel nostalgia... the horror...), I decided to pop in my old DVD of this movie and give it another watch. Unfortunately, I was reminded why some kids' stuff is best left in the past, as this movie seriously failed to hold up after nearly a decade since the last time I saw it. It's hardly a teen comedy so much as it is a live-action Looney Tunes cartoon, with exaggerated caricatures for its cast, wacky sound effects used as gags, ridiculous setups for its jokes, a plot that falls apart the moment you apply any thought to it, and an awfully tame sense of humor for a teen yuk-fest released in the wake of American Pie. And on that level, it kind of works, but it also means that it falls apart once it tries to get "serious" towards the end.

Our protagonist is one Dizzy Gillespie Harrison (DJ Qualls), a high school dweeb who plays in a band with fellow dweebs Nora (a young and nearly unrecognizable Zooey Deschanel), Kirk, and Glen. After literally getting his dick broken as a result of a prank by some jock bullies, Dizzy finally snaps and gets sick of his torment, deliberately getting himself expelled and sent to a new school so that he won't have to deal with it anymore. During his remarkably brief stay in prison, Dizzy's crazy-awesome badass cellmate Luther (Eddie Griffin, who also narrates the film) teaches him enough street smarts so that, when he gets out and starts going to a new school, he's able to reinvent himself as the cool, slicked-hair-and-leather-jacket-wearing new guy Gil Harris, who knocks out the head jock on his first day of school and starts dating the school's hottie Danielle (Eliza Dushku). How long can Dizzy keep up his ruse as "Gil" without drifting away from his old friends or getting caught?

Watching this movie again now that I'm older and have developed (slightly) better taste in movies, I knew I wasn't gonna still love it (it would hardly be the first childhood "classic" of mine to suffer this fate), but I can see why 13-year-old me thought it was amazing. It's got dick jokes, a guy being set on fire, dudes getting kicked in the balls, Eliza Dushku in bikinis and skimpy outfits, enough mild cussing to sound edgy ("who's the bitch now?") while still keeping it PG-13, and of course, the Funk. This film's soundtrack is composed of both turn-of-the-millennium "American Pie-core" pop-punk and timeless '70s funk classics, and is one thing that still holds up today without it being just nostalgia talking. The makers of this movie loved the Funk, and they took ample time to show off that love, with Dizzy and his friends forming a funk-throwback band that plays the likes of James Brown, Carl Carlton, and Wild Cherry. It also does a good job of showing off Zooey Deschanel's singing talent, years before she became a hipster dream girl who recorded albums with M. Ward as She & Him. (Seriously, look 'em up. They're good if you're into indie pop.) Looking at the soundtrack on this film's Wikipedia page, how did they put none of those great funk songs on that CD?

Alas, the soundtrack to a movie like this isn't a big loss given how little else still held up. All of the characters were one-note nerds, jocks, tough guys, and hot chicks, and all actors involved gave appropriately one-note performances. Eddie Griffin was perhaps the most memorable given how over-the-top his character was, but he gets so little screen time that it's a wonder how he managed to be the best character in the film. In particular, I just could not buy into Dizzy's transformation into the cool, slick, smooth-talking Gil. DJ Qualls was just way too scrawny, an early scene shows him getting taken out with one punch in front of the whole school, and his "crazy eyes" shtick made him look less like a badass and more like a psycho (and not the cool Patrick Bateman kind, I mean the kind that murders squirrels and feral cats in the garage) who nobody in their right mind, especially not the hottest girl in school, would be caught dead with lest they be found dead and in several pieces the next morning. Jokes get dragged out for too long, especially early in the film, and are not only dumb and shallow, but lack the edge that they need to compare to other raunchy teen comedies; between the abundant use of goofy sound effects and wacky, nonsensical scenarios, it feels so over-the-top as to be cartoonish. This film is rated PG-13 and feels like it, as though it was made for adolescent boys who were too lazy to sneak into American Pie 2. (There's an unrated version out there, but apparently it doesn't add much.) Furthermore, the film's attitude is so dumb for so long that when it suddenly tries to be "about something" at the end, leaving viewers with a moral about being yourself and not changing your image in order to fit in, it feels forced, hollow, and anticlimatic, like the makers of this film didn't really know how to end it. Sure, we get one scene earlier in the film showing how Dizzy was becoming alienated from his old friends, only for the film to go on and ignore that moment, having them all get back together to play for the homecoming concert without any explanation or arguments.

Score: 2 out of 5

A mix of nostalgia, great music, and some of the wackier gags made this bearable, but even if you're a fan of late '90s/early '00s teen comedies, this one is hardly worth your time. It's not as bad as, say, Jawbreaker, but even the worst American Pie movies (at least, the ones that didn't go direct-to-video) were miles above this in terms of laughs and heart.

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