Last month, GQ ran a disquietingly flattering profile of Joe Roth, who in January 2000 quit his gig as Walt Disney Studios chairman to form his own studio. With a billion bucks on loan from, among others, News Corp. boss Rupert Murdoch, Sony CEO Howard Stringer and media magnate John Malone, Roth launched Revolution Studios. Its purpose, paraphrases Maximillian Potter in the men’s mag, was to “not only reinvent the business of filmmaking [but also] produce better, smarter films.” Then Roth turned around and offered some of the worst movies of 2001: America’s Sweethearts, The Animal, Tomcats and The One. Roth’s old Disney boss, Michael Eisner, says in GQ, “Joe has always been a media darling and says the right things, but no one ever takes a look at what he actually does.”
That’s because Revolution’s films are best watched through squinted eyes and slotted fingers. That is especially true of The New Guy, an ugly-duckling tale so hideously and clumsily told it feels accidental. Surely no one planned something this disastrously unfunny.
A put-upon geek (played by DJ Qualls, not funny), constantly harassed in high school, winds up in prison, falls under the sway of a mentoring con (Kansas City’s Eddie Griffin, never funny) and comes out of the joint a hipped-up dork still quivering beneath his faux-tough-guy exterior. He ditches his old pals — including Almost Famous‘ Zooey Deschanel, fronting a band whose idea of get-down is Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music” — and winds up wowing the kids at his new school, including a cheerleader (Eliza Dushku) with her own dork secrets to keep buried. This Pygmalion with acne — as if — also features cameos by Gene Simmons, Tony Hawk, Henry Rollins, Vanilla Ice and Lyle Lovett, who suffers the ignominy of sporting a mouth full of braces and taking a flaming marshmallow to the eye.
But rather than labor over The New Guy‘s copious flaws, savor the venality and cynicism that allow a film like this to be greenlit in the first place. Consider the people behind it — not merely Roth, a likable pretender posturing as the independent savior of a corrupt system, but also director Ed Decter and writer David Kendall. Decter have carte blanche because they penned the screenplay for the half-billion-dollar hit There’s Something About Mary. Aside from that, theirs is a résumé littered with detritus, including the woeful Freddie Prinze Jr. vehicle Head Over Heels and failed network series such as The Closer with Tom Selleck and Chicago Sons. Kendall, former director and producer of short-lived off-network TV shows, has just one major writing credit to his name: The Growing Pains Movie. Roth’s brain trust proves that once you get your foot in the door in Hollywood, you’re set for life — no matter what kind of offal you shove under an exec’s face or throw at an audience.