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THE MAN SHOW
'ROGER DODGER' IS A STARTLING LOOK INSIDE A GUY'S MIND

ROGER DODGER ***

STARRING: Campbell Scott, Jesse Eisenberg, Isabella Rossellini, Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley

DIRECTOR: Dylan Kidd

RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes

RATING: R for sexual content and language

THE LOWDOWN: A womanizing ad executive learns respect for women after a night on the town with his teenage nephew.

It doesn't take long to get to know Roger.

The minute he opens his mouth and lets forth a torrent of fast talk, calculating and brimming with bravado, you know he's the man your girlfriends, not your mother, warned you about.

You've run across guys like this, guys whose every move and word (and there are lots of them) are designed to close the deal, make the score.

He's usually in sales or is some kind of big-stakes trader. In the case of "Roger Dodger's" Roger (Campbell Scott), he's an ad man whose goal it is to make people feel bad about themselves, bad enough to want to fill the void with whatever it is his client sells -- if it's between 9 and 5 -- or with himself, if he's plying his trade at happy hour.

"Roger Dodger" is the most startling peek into the mind of the modern male since "In the Company of Men."

Scott's Roger is cynical beyond the pale. When we first meet him, he has a lunch table of colleagues enthralled with some staggering claptrap about men's usefulness vis a vis women -- positing some nonsense about men as the weaker sex, all in an effort to weaken every vulnerable female in earshot.

This is a guy practically salivating for his comeuppance. The first blow comes from his boss, the self-assured Joyce (played by Isabella Rossellini), who tells him their fling is over.

The second comes from his gangly 16-year-old nephew, Nick (Jesse Eisenberg), who has unexpectedly come to New York to lose his virginity, with Uncle Roger's help.

The pair sets out on what is essentially a videologue of the Manhattan singles scene.

Put "Roger Dodger" in the pantheon of nighttime New York films that includes Scorcese's "After Hours" and everything Whit Stillman has made.

In their first target-rich environment, Jedi master and apprentice spot Sophie (Jennifer Beals) and Andrea (Elizabeth Berkley) at a bar. Roger lures the women to the table with a story about a wager between the guys.

The women are disgusted yet intrigued by Roger and find the sweet Nick adorable. As Nick talks idealistically about love and the sexes, the balance of power subtly shifts, leaving Roger out in the cold.

The shift grows as the night -- which includes a stop at a party at Joyce's, where Roger was explicitly not invited -- wears on.

Dylan Kidd's loquacious script makes this nimble film an exciting debut. His prowess as a director is a bit shakier (but not as shaky as the artsy hand-held filming of "Roger Dodger"), but this is a promising start.

It's Scott's portrayal of the sad cad that gives "Roger Dodger" its heart.

The underrated king of the indie prom (who'd be crowned alongside Parker Posey if there were such a thing) is mesmerizing as the razor-tongued misogynist who gives away the whole singles-scene secret: that it's not the thrill of the conquest that fuels these nocturnal missions, but the dread of the empty apartment.

e-mail: ebarr@buffnews.com

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