Holedigger Films/Universal .
R4 . COLOR . 101 mins .
M15+ . PAL
The current outbreak of serial sequelitis that’s been infecting movie producers everywhere around the globe is a terrible disease indeed. And sadly, at the time of writing this there’s no known cure. The disease strikes at the creative centre of the human brain, causing it to shut down in a coma-like state and leaving only the basest instincts intact. Essentially, the victim is rendered incapable of only two things: phone calls to the accounting department, and basic integer math (the latter being very handy for adding numbers to film titles). For the avid movie fan, the hapless end victim of this dreadful pestilence, the outlook seems grim. But there’s a way to avoid the touch of this dreadful scourge. It involves some risk and requires a sense of adventure, but for those up to the challenge, spending a night with a new director’s first independent film renders the serial sequelitis bug impotent - as long as that film is a good one. Happily, they frequently are.
Roger explains the art of seduction to his nephew Nick.
New York writer-director Dylan Kidd’s Roger Dodger is one such debut. Straight out of film school and armed with the knowledge gained on a few short films, Kidd went for the comic jugular for his first “proper” movie and the result is a real treat - an intelligent, literate and wickedly funny film which shows just what can be done with a good script and a creative mind.
Roger Swanson (Campbell Scott) is an advertising copywriter who exudes utter confidence in his own brilliance from every pore. A fast-talking, opinionated and arrogant man, he is at the top of his game both at work and in his chosen life specialty - picking up women. Or is he? Roger certainly knows how to talk the talk, but when he’s dumped by the woman he’s been sleeping with - his boss, Joyce (Isabella Rossellini) - his life begins to unravel. It’s bad enough that Roger can’t cope with the blow to his ego that the rejection causes, but to make matters worse, his 16 year-old nephew Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) has just turned up in town and asks Roger to help him conquer his virginity problem. Initially reluctant, Roger soon takes to the task with relish when he hears that Nick and his grandfather (who Roger despises) are getting along wonderfully back home. And so begins a night of sage advice, sexual misadventure and increasing desperation, as it becomes clear that Roger is really the one who’s desperate.
Buoyed by a superb cast (including Jennifer Beals, Elizabeth Berkley and Mina Badie as some of Roger’s “targets”) Roger Dodger barely puts a foot wrong as it mercilessly satirises the world of the self-described “ladies’ man”. When we first meet Roger (in the film’s Tarantino-like opening conversation) we get the impression that he’s intelligent, sophisticated, confident and charming, but that doesn’t last long. The ultimate irony is, of course, that Roger - the self-proclaimed “expert” on all matters female - never once succeeds in even vaguely charming a woman throughout the entire course of the film. Will Roger end up being reformed by his nephew? Well, you’ll have to watch the film to find out, but rest assured that it’s a very amusing ride, superbly written and insightfully directed.
The 1.78:1 image here closely corresponds to the theatrical ratio, and this 16:9 enhanced transfer is given plenty of room to breathe thanks to a gigantically high encoding bitrate on the dual-layered DVD. Roger Dodger was intentionally shot very dark (we had to enhance the screen grab above so you could see it against the page’s white background!) but rest assured that Kidd and cinematographer Joaquin Baca-Asay meant it to look this way, capturing a real feeling of the elusive nature of the nightlife Roger inhabits. Colours are desaturated but well defined and there’s plenty of shadow detail there where it’s needed; in fact, the only real problem here is a fairly large serving of film grain. Make no mistake, you can see the budgetary limitations here, but the transfer serves the film extremely well.
Audio is supplied in Dolby Digital 5.1 with a back-up Dolby Surround mix, and both are fine. A dialogue-centred film, it uses the surround soundstage mainly to create ambience (which it does extremely effectively on the 5.1 track in the many scenes where Roger and Nick are out on the town). Mastered a little louder than the usual Dolby 5.1 track, this is very solid, dependable audio.
The US release of this film on DVD (from Artisan) was packed to the brim with extras; this Australian edition, though, includes only a handful (which is still more than we expected). The main meat is the 31 minutes’ worth of interviews, which are culled from an EPK reel and have each question shown in text on the screen before the subject responds - we never see and rarely hear the interviewer. There’s some interesting stuff said here by Campbell Scott, Jennifer Beals and her best buddy Elizabeth Berkley along with two of the producers. But where’s Dylan Kidd? Aside from that there’s a full-frame trailer with stereo sound that offers the impression that this is a teen flick (it isn't), and finally The Player’s Guide to Scoring With Women, a series of text screens that takes big chunks of the script way too seriously and tries to turn them into some sort of guide to being like Roger (as if anyone would want to be after watching the film!) but out of context most of the humour in the words is lost.
WANTED: This creature, for crimes against legitimate DVD viewers.
Finally, a word about the format of this disc. Universal has seen fit to instruct disc authors Oasis DVD to severely restrict the way customers can play this disc. As usual, the infernal Universal fanfare at the start of the disc is non-skippable, but that’s followed by an anti-piracy trailer and then two trailers for other films, all non-skippable - even the stop button is disabled! The only way to get through them quickly is to fast-forward, something not immediately obvious to many users who will find themselves forced to sit through seven minutes of garbage before they’re permitted to watch the film. The irony here is that once you are allowed to hit the stop button - when the main menu finally appears - pressing play again takes you straight to the movie! This forced-viewing approach certainly can’t be helping win over customers who still remember with white-hot hatred the infamous “have you bought or rented a pirate video?” annoyance on every single VHS cassette they hired. The anti-piracy rubbish on this disc, by the way, comes from the UK, depicting a little fat red devil wielding a red-hot branding iron with a psychotic grin on his face, as the voice-over man calmly intones the ludicrous claim that “piracy funds terrorism” (a fallacy that originates with Microsoft and the MPAA; it has no basis in fact). It really leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, more so because it’s forced on the viewer - and the viewer has done nothing wrong to deserve such punishment. Put what you like at the start of the disc, Universal, but just let your customers hit “menu” or “stop” if they so desire.
Beware of this shoddy authoring if you find yourself tempted to buy a copy of this terrific film; unless you’re lucky enough to have a DVD player that lets you override what’s known in authoring as “User Operation Prohibit”, you might be better off ordering the Artisan version from the US. Just don't buy a pirate version, or you might end up with a big red X branded on your jacksie.