“Dodge University: The Movie” portrays the antics of a group of professors and students at fictitious Dodge University. The project was produced by University of Central Florida film prof Bob Jones, while scripts were solicited from screenwriting students. Various other students then directed the film over the course of two years in and around the UCF campus.
Originally written and produced as an episodic television show, “Dodge University” is reportedly a semi-autobiographical representation of events in Jones’ own teaching career at Boston College and Loyola Marymount. The film itself is divided into three vignettes, each centering on Professor Marshall Harris (Barry Phillips) of Dodge University’s film school and a central cast of recurring characters. These include the professor’s wife Abby (Jennifer Whitaker), who is waiting for Marshall to hit the big time (he’s been working on his screenplay for five years…five years?!), the artistic feminist student Brook (Kristy Moore), the vaguely creepy ROTC guy, the vivacious screenwriting professor (Jennifer Shumaker), and Billy – the successful alum (Scott Snyder).
The first part (or episode) involves Billy’s return to Dodge U. to put Professor Marshall in his next big-budget film. He meets Brook and becomes enamored of her. Brook, for her part, tries to get Billy to do “something meaningful” for his next project. Next, we have a story involving a student’s (Kevin White) attempts to get into film school, while the final part deals with a threat to shut down the school, dovetailed with Billy’s attempt to get his Hugh Hefner project off the ground.
As I mentioned, “Dodge University” was apparently supposed to be a TV show, and frankly it would’ve worked better that way. However Jones has said that when all the finished footage was put together it looked pretty crummy, so they took the best material and came up with the current version. Aside from common characters in all three parts, unfortunately, there’s no real narrative cohesion. It *feels* like an 80-minute television program, albeit one that is pretty well written and has some nice performances. The movie seems somehow unfinished, like Jones couldn’t decide on how to set up effective transitions to make it feel more cinematic. Allowing students to write and direct each segment was an inspired decision though, leading to only a few missteps. And even if the movie is sometimes uneven, the characters and stories are often engaging enough to hold our interest. It gets an ‘A’ for effort, if not for execution.