'Roger Dodger' is awash in bile
Roger Swanson was given the nickname 'Roger Dodger' by his sister, in honor Ñ or dishonor Ñ of the way he always managed to avoid such troublesome things as responsibility.
Now a successful Manhattan adman, Roger (Campbell Scott) earns his living 'thinking of ways to make people feel bad. É You can't sell a product without first making people feel bad.'
Apparently, though, he hasn't been able to sell his boss, Joyce (Isabella Rossellini), on the idea of keeping him as 'her boy.' Joyce, who is able to distinguish between business and what is no longer pleasure, fires Roger as her boyfriend while agreeing to keep him on at the agency Ñ if he can behave.
Roger returns to his upscale meat markets with a cynically honed edge that cuts too deep. And it's just about this time that Roger is paid a surprise visit by his 16-year-old nephew Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), in town in search of dating tips from 'the ladies' man' of the family.
What Nick gets in the night that follows is a scalding class in modern seduction methods, taught by a past master and etched in acid.
As written and directed by first-timer Dylan Kidd and performed with poisonous verve by Scott (son of George C.), 'Roger Dodger' plays like an extended jazz riff set to the rhythm of Roger's rage. Whatever success Nick might gain from his uncle's advice is aborted by Roger's own biliousness, a caustic flow of volcanic anger that threatens anyone in its path.
Witness, for example, the pair's encounter with Andrea and Sophie (Elizabeth Berkley and Jennifer Beals) in a bar where Roger has managed to sneak the underage Nick. As charmed as they are by the boy's inarticulate sincerity and virginal naivetŽ, the two vivacious veterans of the singles scene are equally repulsed by Roger's all-too-familiar cynicism and come-ons. In no time, they're a perplexingly wondrous memory for Nick and more bitter fuel for Roger's fire.
The evening provides a bleak descent that may remind some viewers of such recent studies in sexual trench warfare as 'In the Company of Men' and 'The Business of Strangers.' Like the latter film especially, 'Roger Dodger' also can feel a trifle schematic Ñ if not simply a trifle. Like 'Business,' Kidd's film may seem a bit too mapped-out in its downhill slide.
Overly fond of wobbly, jerky handheld attempts at edginess, Kidd also uses way too many close-ups throughout the film. Once in awhile, it works Ñ as when Nick becomes a large, soft-focus blob in the foreground as Roger focuses on a girl in the background Ñ but mostly it has you wishing for more long shots.
Roger talks to Nick about the vast world of opportunity that surrounds them, but there's never any real sense of it. Sure, the movie is about a self-centered jerk, but we don't have to smell the guy's breath. You begin to wonder if these people even have bodies.
Fortunately, the actors give more play to the characters than Kidd's camera, and Roger turns up unredeemed but perhaps a bit tempered in a funny epilogue at Nick's high school. After a friendly flaying of Nick's pimply cohorts, his uncle is off to find work, because 'consumers everywhere need reminding of just how fat and unattractive they are.'
Roger and out.