Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The New Guy

Portrayals of geeks in film generally consist of Leelee Sobieski or Rachael Leigh Cook sporting frumpy outfits and/or glasses, so there's something refreshing about the existence of Road Trip's DJ Qualls, the rare cinematic Poindexter who actually looks like a real dork. Qualls' geekiness takes center stage in The New Guy, where he plays a scrawny high-school sad sack and abuse magnet who is forced to leave school following a genitalia-related accident involving a geriatric librarian. Waking up in prison, Qualls finds a mentor in prison-bitch-turned-badass Eddie Griffin, who gives the youngster valuable lessons in the art of reinvention. Empowered, Qualls enrolls in a new high school, where his outlaw cool wins him the heart of pretty cheerleader Eliza Dushku. A comedy just funny enough to make viewers wish it were far funnier, Guy takes place in the only school in filmdom in which the geeks play in a rock band, one cheerleader's bullying ex-boyfriend hates sports, and the football team's success is reliant on the emotional support of a dork pretending to be cool. In a better film, such moves might constitute a subversive rethinking of high-school archetypes, but here they seem more like the mark of filmmakers too lazy to get their stereotypes straight. Screenwriter and sitcom veteran David Kendall's script hits some promising notes, particularly in its linkage of prison and high school as brutal, Darwinian environments that crush spirits and inspire blind obedience to authority. The casting of Lyle Lovett as Qualls' father is another inspired move, as is a bit in which Lovett quits his job to spend all his time with his son. Unfortunately, none of the film's promising elements get developed beyond excuses for sloppy, obvious gags, as director Ed Decter seems primarily concerned with getting away with as little as possible. The New Guy's slapdash, anything-goes spirit can be endearing, but only so much can be done with a film that stops periodically for groan-inducing homages to Patton and Urban Cowboy that its target audience will be too young to appreciate. As Qualls' demented tutor, Griffin steals the film with only a few scenes, but in this instance, that barely qualifies as a theft.


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