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Roger Dodger

Friday, November 22, 2002

As a boy, Roger Swanson earned the nickname Roger Dodger for his ability to talk his way out of anything. The talent would seem to come in handy for someone who grew up to be an advertising man. The irony is that he manages to talk his way out of the very game for which he thinks he's written the rules -- manipulating women into having sex with him.


Roger Dodger

RATING: R for sexual content and language.
STARRING: Campbell Scott, Jesse Eisenberg.
DIRECTOR: Dylan Kidd.


Played by Campbell Scott, he is as contemptuous of females as he is himself contemptible. He tries to convince people their lives are miserable in order to sell them products, and uses the same approach on women -- he bluntly tells them their faults and then moves in for the kill.

The protagonist in "Roger Dodger," now at the Squirrel Hill Theater, swims in the same primordial swamp as Chad, the cad planning a woman's emotional destruction in Neil Labute's "In the Company of Men," and Frank T.J. Mackey, the self-help guru for would-be sexual predators in P.T. Anderson's "Magnolia."

The Chads of the world never pay for their perfidy. Mackey, at least, ends up learning the power of forgiveness. Roger suffers the cruelest fate of the three. Writer-director Dylan Kidd lets us see him for what he really is -- and isn't.

The movie opens with the Roger infomercial, if you will. He sits at lunch with a group of colleagues, both men and women, and expounds cynically on various matters with just enough conviction to sound convincing.

But then we get to see him through another pair of eyes -- his guileless 16-year-old nephew, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), who looks up his uncle in the Big Apple and, aware of his reputation as a ladies' man, asks him for help in losing his virginity.

On their darkly lit, often hand-held tour of Manhattan nightclubs it is, of course, Nick's wholesome honesty that trumps Roger's practiced plotting. It comes to a head in a vivid exchange among Roger, Nick and two women they are trying to pick up who are portrayed by Jennifer "Flashdance" Beals and Elizabeth "Showgirls" Berkley. Also featured in the movie is Isabella Rossellini as Roger's boss and abruptly former lover.

The film is a triumph for all of them, including Scott, who has never been as finely honed. Kidd, a first-time filmmaker, supplies them with the kind of rich, dense dialogue that demands the best from his actors. "Roger Dodger" makes us ready and willing to spend some time in the company of men, women and vermin.

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