“The New Guy” is a waste of talent. This high school epic, supposedly about one boy’s path to true cool is so half-baked and uncool that it’s embarrassing. It is also another case of the MPAA giving a PG-13 rating to a comedy that has material that would get an R in a drama.
Chickenesque D.J. Qualls, this generation’s Don Knotts, plays Dizzy, a funk-loving dork stranded at the bottom of the school pecking order with his pals, played by Parry Shen, the magnificent Zooey Deschanel (“Big Trouble” and “Almost Famous”) and Jeord Mixon. After an opening-day incident where Dizzy is injured in an unlikely and spectacular and deeply personal way, he decides he must escape. Deciding to get expelled, his antics at first only merit a diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome and some stupefying medication. Now drug-addled as well, his behavior escalates until he gets thrown in jail. There his meets the mentor he’s been needing: Eddie Griffin, playing an inmate who’s cultivated a fierce facade to survive the comic rigors of movie-prison life.
Under his tutelage, Dizzy is transformed into the punky Gil. At a new school, on the other side of town, Gil uses his newfound abilities to spout decade-old pseudo-Ebonic aphorisms and publicly beat the local bully. His badboy status confirmed, he begins to restructure the social hierarchy of the new place. Eventually, he’s forced to confront the fact that Gil is just an invention, and also forced by the lame script to win the heart of the school bully’s sexy girlfriend, as portrayed by Eliza Dushku.
It is painful to see some of today’s most talented young actors wasted in this dreck. They’re given very little to work with in the script. The writer and director have sadly bought into the same limited mindset about popularity and conformity that they are purportedly skewering.
The most troubling aspect of “The New Guy” might be strained impressions D.J. Qualls calls upon in his quest for status. It’s intrinsically funny to watch the gawkiest white guy on the planet attempt to imitate macho black posturing (especially when the source of this posturing is the chihuahua-like Eddie Griffin). But so much of it goes on for so long that posturing begins to seem a little like caricature. And it’s precisely this behavior, the epitome of imitative uncool, which is supposed to secure “Gil’s” status.
Parents should know that this film contains a lot of sexual talk, a little sexual activity (offscreen), and a mutilating injury that is supposed to be funny. Dizzy/Gil overdoses on medication, crashes a motorcycle, and sets his father’s head on fire (by accident, for comic effect). The slapstick of the film is pretty violent, and there are frequent kicks to the groin. One character is described as a “slut” and likes to have sex in public. Another pages a friend on a store intercom, reporting a “pair of lost testicles.”
Families who see this movie should talk about who the arbiters of social status are in real high schools, and what qualities determine a person’s status. What are the advantages of popularity? What are the consequences (advantages?) of being unpopular? Is social status fixed, or changeable? Does any of this really matter after high school?
Families who enjoyed this film might want to catch D.J. Qualls’ breakout role in “Roadtrip”, or give Eddie Griffin some space for his comedy in “Double Take”, alongside the underutilized Orlando Jones.