Sometimes there are very good reasons for certain movies to be sealed in a jar and left on a remote shelf indefinitely. "New Best Friend" wrapped production three years ago, and no one until now has thought it prudent to release its disorienting contents upon the unsuspecting--and largely undeserving--rabble. Why now seems to be any better time than, say, last August, to let impressionable post-adolescents see what a lethal bacchanalia campus life can be in the 21st century is beyond any rational explanation.
So is much of what passes for a narrative in this roughhousing suds machine, in which the soft-spoken, callow sheriff (Taye Diggs) of a Southern college town is asked to "discreetly, delicately" find out why Alicia Glazer (Mia Kirshner), a student on financial aid, is comatose and near death from a drug overdose.
Her distraught mother puts most of the blame on the "rich kids" with whom Alicia suddenly cast her lot. Three especially snooty--and sexy--sorority sisters are singled out for interrogation: Sidney (Dominique Swain), Julianne (Rachel True) and Hadley (Meredith Monroe). (Think of "Josie and the Pussycats" as Satan's spawn, and you get the idea.) Of the three, it's the sultry, irrepressibly blond Hadley who piques the sheriff's interest, because it was she who, for reasons actually related to schoolwork, brought the previously shy, retiring, working-class drone Alicia into their inner circle, where she mutated into a glamorously attired, drug-gorging, backstabbing barracuda. In short, one of them.
The movie struggles awkwardly to bring a twist or two to its hoary class-conscious story line, aiming for a subtlety in character development that's smothered by excessive kitsch and kink. In the end, you don't know what to think of Alicia or her chic-trash fellow travelers.
You'd like to think that such confusion is deliberate, veering away from "easy" conclusions. But "New Best Friend" doesn't seem smart enough for that.
At any rate, it's nice to see Diggs in a film that doesn't require him take his shirt off and even suggest a new way for a black man to be a crime solver in a movie.
Beyond that, if you want to see young people struggling with the vagaries of status buffoonery, "Heathers" (1986) remains the movie to beat.
MPAA rating: R, for strong sexuality, language and drug use.
Gene Seymour writes about film for Newsday, a Tribune company.
'New Best Friend'
TriStar Pictures presents an FGM Entertainment production, released by TriStar. Director Zoe Clarke-Williams. Producer Frank Mancuso Jr. Screenplay by Victoria Strouse. Cinematographer Tom Priestley. Editors Norman Buckley, Leo Trombetta. Costume designer Patsy C. Rainey. Music John Murphy and David A. Hughes. Production designer Brent Rencher. Art director Linwood Taylor. Set director Valerie Fann. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
In limited release.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times