(director/writer: Dylan Kidd; cinematographer: Joaquin Baca-Asay; editor: Andy Kier; music: Craig Wedren; cast: Campbell Scott (Roger), Isabella Rossellini (Joyce), Elizabeth Berkley (Andrea), Jennifer Beals (Sophie), Jesse Eisenberg (Nick), Mina Badie (Donna); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Anne Chaisson/Dylan Kidd/George Van Buskirk; Artisan; 2002)

“It’s a minor comedy that tries to balance sweetness with coarseness, while it paints a sad picture of the singles scene.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Director and writer Dylan Kidd in his first directing effort does an adept job in this social comedy in sorting out how men and women relate to each other. The film is about the relationship between the reprehensible, non-stop talking, mind game playing, Manhattan advertising copywriter bachelor closing in on forty, Roger Swanson (Campbell Scott), and the 16-year-old nerdy virgin, Ohio high school student, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg). He’s a visiting nephew whom Roger acts as a mentor to on how to score women.

It’s a muddled character study about the familiar theme of an arrogant know-it-all who in the end gets his expected comeuppance, but it’s well acted and critically observant in parts despite all its miscues. It’s also rather tastefully accomplished in spite of following a new subgenre formulaic of recent indie films, especially Neil LaBute’s caustic tales. Kidd satirizes the womanizer in a bizarre fashion and rails against society’s penchant for consumerism in a more acerbic way than the usual Hollywood sitcom comedy. The film lost interest for me by following such an annoying cad around for the whole film as his act never changed, but it won me back somewhat by not being as predictable as expected and by opting for good sense — which means it weighed its options with care and did not shoot from the hip for a crowd pleasing payoff. There’s no deep revealing things it discloses about its main character’s predator act and his social Darwin postulation about natural selection, but it was mildly entertaining and Roger before his irksome personality wears thin articulates his bullshit lines of gender combat with the amusing urgency of a salesman trying to close a big deal.

I also never warmed up to the Nick character, though he’s well acted by Eisenberg. He was left hanging in too many scenes with just an embarrassing look and was never given a means for us to see his character grow. He seemed to be the same after his one-night out on the big town as he was in the conclusion back in Ohio. There we watch him operate with his dweeby high school friends as if nothing happened to him in the Big Apple. Somehow the film never got around to offering any insights into the woman-objectifying predator Roger and why he can’t control his bad instincts, as the film lost its way home after a night of carousing around town. Roger Dodger who was named by his older sister because he had the ability to talk his way out of any situation, couldn’t talk his way out of what went wrong in this film.

We first meet Roger in full bloom and at the top of his game, as he’s at a posh New York bar having drinks with his office colleagues and his sometimes girlfriend as well as his boss, the sexy and sophisticated Joyce (Isabella Rossellini). Roger monopolizes the conversation as he makes a point about future generations not needing sperm for childbirth and therefore men will be reduced to servitude and become irrelevant. He glibly goes on and on spouting pseudoscientific notions which gain bemused stares from Joyce. She will afterwards end their strictly for sex one-night a week liasons, as she’s grown weary of his childish Playboy sexist attitude and how stalker-like he becomes when he shows up at her apartment without an invite.

But Roger can still write good ad copy, though Joyce warns him to let go of the notion of seeing her again or else she’ll fire him. She mentions that there are many others out there who could easily do what he does. The film makes a good point that the business of selling the public what they might not need, which is how Roger describes what he does, is not that creative of a task.

Nick, who is in New York to interview for admissions to Columbia University, pays a surprise visit to his Uncle Roger’s office. Roger has become a fascinating character to Nick after his mother negatively refers to Roger as “some kind of a ladies’ man,” which gets the curiosity of the youngster who has girls on his brain but doesn’t know how to meet them.

The story goes on a drunken tour of the New York bar scene, as Roger shows off to the green kid how to pickup chicks and guarantees him that if he follows his advice he’ll score. All he has to do is come up with a catchy line that grabs the ladies attention. Roger boasts that he scores every night following this technique. In the few scenes we see Roger at work with his moves, he never scores even though he has all the smooth lines. He acts sardonic, sophisticated, and witty; but, he also seems to have a compulsive need to blow himself off after his initial success. He can’t help coming up with a heavy dose of follow-up sarcasm and hostility to turn off his intended score.

In the film’s highlight scene, the odd duo unexpectedly hook up in a swinging bar with two foxy, sharp, loose chicks, Andrea (Jennifer Beals) and Sophie (Elizabeth Berkley), after Nick comes up with the corny line to Andrea that he has a bet with his uncle for a thousand dollars that he will get someone to fall in love with him this evening. It’s Nick’s sweetness and awkward charm that wins the gals over, but it’s Roger’s persistent negative Lothario approach that turns them off. The film plays this dilemma for all its worth, as the viewer hangs on to see if the kid could score one of these most desirable women. We already know Roger is out of the running.

It’s a minor comedy that tries to balance sweetness with coarseness, while it paints a sad picture of the singles scene. It still works despite uninteresting visuals and too many unnecessary scenes, but it has better prospects on home video than in the theater.

Top 365 Films - Roger Dodger

REVIEWED ON 12/5/2002 GRADE: C +