Last month, GQ ran a disquietingly flattering profile of Joe Roth, who, in January 2000, quit his gig as Walt Disney Studios chairman to "revolutionize the industry" (GQ's words) by forming his own studio. With a billion bucks on loan from men with money and bridges to burn, Roth launched Revolution Studios. Its purpose, paraphrases the author, was to "not only reinvent the business of filmmaking [but also] produce better, smarter films." And then Roth turned around and offered some of the worst, dumbest movies of 2001: the ironically named America's Sweethearts (with Julia Roberts and John Cusack), The Animal (starring Rob Schneider), Tomcats (a would-be sex romp starring Jerry O'Connell), and The One (with Jet Li kicking his own ass on our behalf). In fact, the studio has but one triumph to date: Black Hawk Down, which had less to do with Roth than it did producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Ridley Scott, and its no-lose source material.
Watching The New Guy, the latest Revolution offering, I'm reminded of a quote from Roth's old Disney boss, Michael Eisner, who 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 one can't look directly at Revolution's films; they're 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.
The story is a dodgy variation on a soporific theme: Put-upon geek (played by DJ Qualls, not funny) is constantly getting harassed at high school, winds up in prison, falls under the sway of a mentoring con (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 and winds up wowing the kids at his new school, including the head cheerleader (Eliza Dushku), who has her own dork secrets to keep buried. In all, Pygmalion with acne, featuring cameos by Gene Simmons, Tony Hawk, Henry Rollins, Vanilla Ice, and Lyle Lovett.
But rather than labor over The New Guy's copious flaws -- it's amazing this thing even sticks to celluloid -- instead 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, but also director Ed Decter and executive producer John J. Strauss (both of There's Something About Mary), writer David Kendall (The Growing Pains Movie), and producer Todd Garner (Pearl Harbor, Gone in 60 Seconds). All exist as proof 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.