Roger Dodger
directed by Dylan Kidd
(Artisan, 2002)

Teenager Nick, fresh in New York City from Ohio, is absolutely desperate to lose his virginity. Lucky for him he has Uncle Roger, whose self-proclaimed talent as a rogue is legendary.

"Mom says you're kind of a ladies' man," Nick hesitantly confesses to Uncle Roger. "She says it like it's a bad thing."

The smooth verbal nastiness of Roger Dodger, writer/director Dylan Kidd's first film, and the rapport between its two leads, pretty much makes up for a story line that's similar to other "boys behaving badly" films of recent years.

For the film's first two-thirds, in fact, Campbell Scott's performance as Roger Swanson rules as one of the best scenery-chewing roles of 2002 -- and, as Nick, Jesse Eisenberg turns just his second movie performance into a perfect foil for Scott's tightly wound man-about-town.

Roger Dodger is the nickname Roger's estranged sister gave him in childhood for his ability to talk his way out of tight situations. And, as he's grown up, his skill has gotten more developed -- and the situations more adult.

Now he lives for the sound of his own voice, lives for his glib nights out and sees the apex of parties as "the witching hour" -- after this, people get frightened about going home alone, the stakes get higher and the standards get lower.

None of that matters to Nick, who's impressed enough by Roger -- and naive enough -- to have no idea that his own honesty would win over women who wouldn't give Roger a second look. So the two make a deal that Roger will help Nick find someone before the night is over.

It doesn't take long for Roger to lure two women to their table in a bar -- women who, very quickly, sense something in Nick that Roger long ago lost. Their conversations begin like those Roger has with his co-workers: the obsolescence of men, how and why women like sex. Keep it all about sex, Roger tells Nick; it's the sure path to success.

But Andrea (Elizabeth Berkley) and Sophie (Jennifer Beals) are taken with Nick's candor, and Roger only gets more irritated, his patter more barbed. By the end of the night, Roger and Nick end up in an underground sex club, Nick's adulation of Roger has worn off and Roger's wondering where, exactly, his path has taken him.

Add in Roger's broken-off relationship with his boss, Joyce (Isabella Rossellini), and it's a twist on the male supervisor/female subordinate office affair.

Through it all, Scott's edgy, angry performance never lets up, never takes a breath, never lets down its barbed-wire guard. It's the reason to see Roger Dodger.

Too bad director Kidd spends his last 20 minutes trying to redeem Roger, sending him to Ohio to visit Nick and to Nick's school to give teenage boys advice on women. It's unnecessary, and it's a feel-good attempt that just seems creepy, given Roger's philosophy on life.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 20 December 2003

Buy it from