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 -- among them 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." 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. Rewarding Roth for its success is like crediting George Steinbrenner for David Wells' stellar win-loss record this season.
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 -- including Almost Famous' Zooey Deschanel, fronting a multi-culti, funk-rock 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 the head cheerleader (Eliza Dushku), who has her own dork secrets to keep buried. In all, Pygmalion with acne, as if, featuring cameos by Gene Simmons, Tony Hawk, Henry Rollins, Vanilla Ice (whose character works at a Sam Goody, which may really be where Mr. Van Winkle works these days) and Lyle Lovett, who suffers the ignominy of sporting a mouth full of braces and taking a flaming marshmallow to the eye.
The New Guy
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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 green-lighted 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, writer David Kendall, producer Todd Garner and executive producer John J. Strauss. 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, no matter how foul the refuse dripping off the screening-room wall.
Decter and Strauss have carte blanche because they penned the screenplay for There's Something About Mary, a half-a-billion-buck hit worldwide. 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, one of many sinking ships captained by Jason Bateman. The press kit for The New Guy threatens only more of the same: Decter and Roth are developing two sitcom pilots, including one called The Ump to star Tony Danza. Roth will even direct The Ump, marking his first time behind the camera since America's Sweethearts. That same media kit highlights Garner's contributions during his tenure as co-president of Buena Vista Motion Picture Group: Pearl Harbor, Gone in 60 Seconds, The Waterboy and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. Kendall, former director and producer of short-lived off-network TV shows, has but one major writing credit to his name: The Growing Pains Movie.
This is the brain trust with which Roth surrounds himself. No wonder, as GQ points out, he might be looking for another gig running someone else's studio (into the ground?). Even if his intentions were once noble and pure, look a t how easily they were corrupted -- or, perhaps, how quickly they just evaporated once Roth remembered you get rich by merely pretending to be an insurgent in a status-quo town.