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By Phil Hall | November 4, 2004

The first day of a new job is always an intimidating experience, but few newbies can ever imagine the surrealism facing the title character of Bilge Ebiri’s dark comedy “New Guy.” This stylish comedy takes the panic of first-day jitters and merges into an office environment, which seems to have been created by the combined input of Jacques Tati, H.P. Lovecraft and Tex Avery.

The new guy of “New Guy” is Gregg (played by Kelly Miller), a polite but nervous young man who views his surrounding with wide-eyed curiosity and apprehension. He is clearly a situation, which he cannot imagine or comprehend: his cubicle is covered in yellow Post-It notes and apparently belonged to a worker who went off into the homicidal deep end. His co-workers are an equally weird bunch: an angry mess of a man who hogs the fax machine, two women who discuss their respective sex lives for all to hear, a fellow worker at a neighboring cubicle whose entire day is spent on the phone with a girlfriend, men who watch some hanky-panky at an office across the street via binoculars, a boss who allows his son to run a monster toy car around the office, and a hostile janitor who curses in Spanish.

Ebiri paces his film at a slow but steady level that allows the comic dementia to build at a leisurely pace. His camera is usually just a little off-center and tilted, perfectly reflecting the slightly-out-of-whack corporate world where Gregg finds himself trapped–and during the second part of the film, he is literally trapped alone in the office when he is the last worker to leave but cannot get the front door mechanism to open for him. Or is he alone? This leads to an extended adventure that brings “New Guy” down unexpected dark corners with Gregg turning homicidal by using a jagged coffee pot as his weapon of choice. This section of the film sometimes feels like they belong in another movie, but by the end of the picture it all falls together quite nicely.

If “New Guy” has a weak link, it is the secondary story of Gregg’s telephone tag with a lovely young woman he is supposed to date that evening. While it provides a level of humanity to the surroundings, it sometimes feels intrusive (after all, the real world has no place in the surreal world) and breaks the film’s style and pacing.

“New Guy” is an original and highly memorable comedy, and mention should be made of Ebiri’s work beyond filmmaking: he is also a film critic for New York Magazine, thus giving proof that those who review films for a living can also turn around and make a damn fine movie.

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