- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

The most impressive first feature of the year, "Roger Dodger" introduces a promising young writer-director in Dylan Kidd, 33, while demonstrating that Campbell Scott, 40, remains one of the most talented and intriguing, albeit stealthy, movie actors of his generation.
I have always been amazed that Mr. Scott eluded a stellar buildup after the misbegotten "Dying Young," in which he completely overshadowed Julia Roberts, fresh from the triumph of "Pretty Woman." Mr. Scott, the son of George C. Scott and Colleen Dewhurst, was a far more beautiful camera subject and expressive instrument than the leading lady.
The tour-de-force merits of "Roger Dodger" are established in the opening sequence, itself a tour de force, in which Mr. Scott as the witty and clever but insufferable advertising copywriter Roger Swanson holds forth during a lunch with colleagues, including his boss and lover, Joyce, played by Isabella Rossellini.
Roger has perfected a grandstanding Socratic method of his own. The topic he embroiders on this occasion the obsolescence of his own sex in the emerging scheme of things is also a genuine sore point as the plot unfolds and the character simultaneously sours on you and grows on you, a remarkable balancing act.
Sweeping generalizations aside, Roger himself is flirting with obsolescence and hastening its short-term consequences. He has worn out his welcome by exposing too much cynicism with too much unconcealed contempt. Even the intimates who admire his supple, superior mind and glib tongue have reached a breaking point with his arrogant personality.
He has made himself persona non grata, even with a gorgeous and presumably indulgent consort. We watch him wage a futile rear-guard action against this prideful, self-inflicted dead end for the next 24 hours or so, complicated by the intrusion of a younger "Lost Boy," his teenage nephew Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), who has run away from home in Ohio. He turns up in Roger's Manhattan office, seeking both temporary refuge and the disreputable worldly wisdom rumored to be in his uncle's possession as a notorious man about town.
Seething at Joyce's determination to end their love affair, gently if possible, Roger is in a vindictive mood. He obliges the teenager with a whirlwind exposure to bar-hopping, party-crashing and ultimately whore-mongering, a rotten idea that sobers up both the experienced and novice player after a brief sojourn in an underground pit of vice.
The less hellish object lessons occur at street level and penthouse level. Roger insinuates Nick into a saloon at happy hour and uses him as a conversation piece to divert a fabulous set of pickups, Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley, who take a fondly affectionate interest in the boy while remaining justifiably leery of the guardian.
Mr. Kidd's flair with monologue extends to dialogue during the scenes with Miss Beals and Miss Berkley, who contribute to consistently amusing passages of four-part argumentation and teasing. It would seem fine if this oddball double date continued into the wee hours and anticipated endearing friendships with no fixed carnal payoff.
The sheer articulation that distinguishes "Roger Dodger" comes as a timely rebuke to the overrated "Punch-Drunk Love," which suffers from a chronic inability to get sustained and revealing words into the mouths of its principal characters.
After the tongue-tied frustrations of that yearning but blundering trifle, Mr. Kidd seems a delightful icebreaker. He can be faulted for starting with a flimsy pretext, which threatens his story with premature deflation at several points, but the movie has a bracing gift of gab and a commendable sense of generosity. These virtues save both the protagonist and the film from potential dates with calamity.
It's safe to assume that such old campaigners as Al Pacino and Jack Nicholson will be in serious awards contention this year for "Insomnia" and "About Schmidt," respectively, but for the time being, it contents me to regard Campbell Scott as the guy to beat for making Roger the Dodger such a fascinating malcontent. At the very least, he should put the Adam Sandler bid, another feeble presumption of "Punch-Drunk Love," in laughable perspective.

***1/2
TITLE: "Roger Dodger"
RATING: R (Occasional profanity and sexual candor, including interludes of simulated intercourse and a sinister episode in a brothel; fleeting nudity)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Dylan Kidd
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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