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Roger Dodger

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Roger Dodger

Starring: Campbell Scott, Jesse Eisenberg
Director: Dylan Kidd
Rated: R
RunTime: 104 Minutes
Release Date: October 2002
Genres: Comedy, Drama

*Also starring: Elizabeth Berkley, Jennifer Beals, Isabella Rossellini, Mina Badie

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Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

Dylan Kidd may be a first-time director but while direction is not a particularly strong point in "Roger Dodger," the script is a first- rate, cynical dissertation on the sexual wars. The opening conversation around a table at a bar holding the boss and employees of a crackerjack New York ad agency, is so sharp that a typical arthouse patron might even think back to David Hare's "The Designated Mourner," except that this time the topic is not so trivial as the Death of Culture but the far more important one: Sex. To Roger Swanson (Campbell Scott), the pursuit of sex is as exciting as the hunt is to the deer slayer: we get the impression by the final scene of this 105-minute theatrical piece in which Mr. Kidd attempts throughout to one-up Neil La Bute for nastiness that the chase is more important than the reward. Consider how unsuccessful Roger is in gaining his alleged objective and how competent he is as a silver-tongued orator who could out-debate Johnny Cochran and who seems to expand his social vocabulary with every puff of his omnipresent cigarette.

With a theme redolent of the musical "Auntie Mame," Roger Dodger introduces a 16-year-old Ohio resident, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), who makes a surprise visit on his uncle Roger just after the former's interview for a place at Columbia University. The difference is that Roger does not treat his nephew as an underage kid who must be protected from four-letter words and the sex act itself but as a student of physical love to whom he condescends only occasionally, at other times treating him almost like an equal. When Roger is not making the scene with his boss at the ad agency, Joyce (Isabella Rossellini) who despite her extra years feels free to collect younger men at her ad agency like trophies only to dispense with them when she's bored he's doing the bars, trying to prove to the teen that he scores "every night." Roger, though, gets his nickname because apparently he'd rather dodge the women he meets after hitting on them, presumably because he has the same contempt for women that a pimp has for his stable.

"Roger Dodger" is a nasty movie, which is all to its credit, though one which does not really gather steam as it progresses. Nothing in the story quite matches the opening gambit with his boss and colleagues as he entertains them with a vision of the near future in which not only will men become obsolete except for lifting couches, but sperm itself will no longer be necessary for procreation. Campbell Scott is vastly entertaining in a story that you'd most likely find on the off-Broadway stage but which works fine on the screen despite Kidd use of natural light which keeps most of the scenes pretty dark as though to match the protagonist's own in-the-dark mentality about the opposite sex.

With the exception of Isabella Rossellini who cannot match Scott Campbell's dialogue for wit and cynicism but can only respond with some cleverness to his repartee Dylan Kidd's women are strictly supporting players some barflies like Andrea (Elizabeth Berkley) and Sophie (Jennifer Beals), others there simply to allow Roger to insult them for their advancing age. In one of Roger Dodger's most prescient adages, that the purpose of advertising is "thinking up ways to make people feel bad? (and promising that its products would fulfill the gaps), just think of how many movies with sexy stars make us feel inadequate. We don't look like them, we cannot attract others the way they can, we don't have the incredible orgasms that they appear to enjoy. What should we do to fulfill ourselves? Ask Roger. He'll give you the answer, but I'd guess he goes back to an empty apartment more nights than he'd like to admit.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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