The New Guy Movie Review

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For its first 20 minutes or so, the big-geek-on-campus comedy "The New Guy" gets by on a semi-fresh twist of tiresome teen clique themes and a well-cast lead. DJ Qualls -- the 98-lb. walking weakling punchline from 2000's "Road Trip" -- plays a bottom-of-the-food-chain bully magnet who changes high schools and reinvents himself as a wiry, uber-cool bad ass.

But as soon as the kid gets comfortable with his new studly status (insert stock scenes of trampy cheerleaders here) and we've seen Qualls' entire comical cool-jerk repertoire, the movie plum runs out of ideas and putters along on fumes until the closing credits.

Lazy and simplistic, when "The New Guy" isn't beating long-dead genre horses (Qualls feels guilty, for about two minutes, about dissing his "real" friends for the in crowd), it's a blender-edited mish-mosh of abridged plot points. Our hero apparently teaches everyone in his new school to get along, but we don't see how he does it. Before long campus hotties are hanging off the arms of dorks, overweight guys and other former outcasts. No explanation there either. Qualls' dad (Lyle Lovett) and former school counselor (Illeana Douglas) think his new style and attitude are signs of a drug problem, but that story angle is abandoned after about 30 seconds.

When director Ed Decter has run the gamut of trite teen comedy clichés and still hasn't made it to feature length, he litters the picture with cameos (Henry Rollins, Tommy Lee, Gene Simmons, Vanilla Ice, Tony Hawk, David Hasselhoff), movie spoofs ("Patton," "Braveheart"), musical montages and a shopping trip scene that's just an excuse to get co-star Eliza Dushku ("Bring It On") half-naked, modeling bikinis for a bullet-sweating Qualls.

All premise and no follow-through, the movie's only asset is its star, who has talent, comedic timing and inborn geek appeal that keeps peeking out underneath his facade of new cool.

The funniest scenes in the movie (and that's not saying much) take place in the first reel when he's tossed in jail overnight under patently contrived circumstances. He meets inmate Eddie Griffin ("Double Take") who becomes his bad-dude attitude mentor. "High school is a lot like prison," Griffin says before teaching Qualls how to act crazy so bullies will leave him alone and other tricks of survival. "The sex you want, you ain't gettin'. The sex you gettin', you don't want."

Why Qualls' minor arrest lands him in prison with guys doing hard time instead of into a holding cell makes about as much sense as casting actors obviously in their mid-late 20s to play high schoolers. But to tear apart this scene would leave me with almost nothing nice to say about "The New Guy" -- and it's not insufferable. It's just uninspired and so inept there's no wondering why it sat on a shelf for almost two years before its release.

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The New Guy Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, Opened: Friday, May 10, 2002

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