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Roger Dodger

Reviewed By Brian McKay
Posted 06/10/03 07:27:37

"Why the hell couldn't I have had THIS uncle growing up?"
5 stars (Awesome)

Blatantly arrogant, unapologetically misogynistic, morally repugnant, and absolutely hypnotic. All these descriptions and more can be applied to the character of Roger Swanson (Campbell Scott, who kicks ass and takes names in this role like I've never seen him do before). You may loathe everything he stands for, but I guarantee you'll hang on every word whilst you loathe.

Roger is an advertising executive by day, writing copy for ads that are designed to make people feel bad. As he explains it to his visiting teen nephew, Nick, (Jesse Eisenberg), “You have to make people feel bad, like something is missing from their lives. Then you convince them that your product is the only thing that will fill the hole”.

Roger writes excellent copy, but he talks an even better game. When he explains his theories on the diminishing usefulness of the human male to the female population, (bemoaning the fact that genetic experiments have fertilized an egg without sperm, thereby heralding the impending obsolescence of the male), his mixed crowd of co-workers stop to poke fun at his hypothesis, and yet beg him to continue expounding on them. Such is the nature of Roger’s character. Despite his arrogant persona, you can’t wait for him to open his mouth again and see what kind of bizarre, vituperative, and usually hysterically statement comes out next.

Naturally, Roger is a player by night, cruising the clubs for one night stands and throwing attention-grabbing pick-up lines at whichever attractive woman happens to pass within range of his radar. He’s smooth and enigmatic, but perhaps a little too polished in his craft. Women usually stick around to see what he says next, but they know how to spot a player, and Roger may as well have a flashing neon “P” on his forehead. But he’s also seeing his boss, Joyce (Isabella Rosellini) – until she ends the relationship rather abruptly when he becomes a bit too clingy for her taste.

When gawky teen nephew Nick shows up at Roger’s office, however, he asks the artful dodger (sorry, couldn’t resist) for tips on how to hook up with girls. The result is a hilarious crash-course in how to get laid, which includes Roger sneaking Nick into a bar and summoning two prospective targets, Andrea (Elizabeth Berkeley) and Sophie (Jennifer Beals, who is also quite good here). Although neither of these bar scene veterans are about to be swayed by Roger’s fast-talking, they find Nick “adorable” and stick around. When Sophie gives the virginal Nick an impassioned first kiss, Roger wryly remarks “Be sure and file that one away for later, kid. . . if you know what I mean.”

From the bar, they go to a party at Joyce’s penthouse apartment – a party that everyone in the office but Roger has been invited too. After trying to set Nick up with a drunken secretary of well-established loose morals and low self-esteem, he spies Joyce with a new boyfriend and goes ballistic. What’s interesting about his reaction is that one is never sure if he is jealous because he honestly has feelings for Joyce, or simply because being dumped is an affront to his manly arrogance. Meanwhile, the gentle virgin Nick covers up the drunk, passed out girl instead of taking advantage of her – like we knew he would.

Roger Dodger is an exhilarating piece of filmmaking with a solid supporting cast. Scott, however, owns this particular production. The clever writing goes a long way towards making this a great movie, but Scott’s delivery and vivid portrayal of the character are what really cinch the deal. Although he bears some similarity to Aaron Eckhart’s fast-talking womanizer in Neil LaBute’s In the Company of Men, he has just enough of a human streak to make his character redeemable, while Eckhart’s character was contemptible through and through.

ROGER DODGER is the kind of small film that excels thanks to a solid core cast with a dynamic lead. Sure, Roger may be a bit of a sleaze, but what horny teenage kid wouldn’t want to have an uncle like this around to teach him the art of the score?

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