Notwithstanding his uncivil desire to curdle the stomachs of his audience with a hyperactive hand-held camera, young Dylan Kidd has talent. He can write dialogue and work skillfully with actors, and he has a pretty good handle on urban loneliness of the knowing, virulent New York City variety. Kidd was also fortunate enough, when it looked as though his script for Roger Dodger would go forever unnoticed, to bump into Campbell Scott, brave enough to show the actor the screenplay, and luckier still that Scott, who was tired of being cast as a sweet guy, was looking for a role as a nasty piece of work. Scott plays the eponymous Roger, a sleek advertising copywriter who spends his days "thinking up ways to make people feel bad" and his evenings either getting into the pants of women who can't resist his logorrheic charms or hurling quietly psychoanalytic insults at those who can. He can't stop spewing, and when his boss (Isabella Rossellini, powerful here even without makeup), with whom he has been having an affair, dumps him, Roger consoles himself with an extra-abusive tear through the bar scene, which is interrupted by the arrival of his nephew Nick (the excellent Jesse Eisenberg), a pimply youth who's sorely in need of losing his virginity.
The rest is a night out on a town insidiously lit in livid yellow and dark shadows, in which Roger tries to initiate Nick into his philosophy of what makes women tick. Roger is the nonviolent version of Christian Bale's mad yupster in American Psycho—you see the attraction for distributor Artisan Entertainment, which until its recent excursion into religion for kiddies (Veggie Tales) has made its money aggressively courting the snickering-youth demographic in films such as The Blair Witch Project and Requiem for a Dream. Still, Kidd has none of the cynicism of his anti-hero: it's Nick—earnest, organic-minded Nick—that the women go for. There's a shattering shot of one of the pair's smart-mouthed dates (Jennifer Beals), who gives Nick his first kiss, looking inconsolably sad in the shadowy back seat of a taxi as it pulls away. I was with Roger Dodger all the way until its vile hero had an 11th-hour burst of insight that defied all belief. I didn't buy it, but I do want his therapist's phone number.
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ROGER DODGER WAS WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY DYLAN KIDD; PRODUCED BY ANNE CHAISSON, KIDD AND GEORGE VAN BUSKIRK; AND STARS CAMPBELL SCOTT AND JESSE EISENBERG. NOW PLAYING AT EDWARDS UNIVERSITY, IRVINE.