MOVIE REVIEW- Sketchy sketch pad: Ordinary movie disappoints

If almost anyone else had made Art School Confidential, it would be a perfectly enjoyable tale of a young artist's freshman year and the strange people he encounters; but after Crumb, Ghost World and Bad Santa, the last thing we expect from Terry Zwigoff is a movie this ordinary.

Like Ghost World, the screenplay for Art School Confidential was adapted from his own comic book by Daniel Clowes. But this time it's impossible to tell whether he and Zwigoff have their tongues in their cheeks.

Take the visual art, for instance. There's a 12-foot stack of brightly colored plastic chairs. You want to laugh, but don't for fear of seeing the same thing in a museum or gallery the next day. Is it art or satire?

It's the same with the script. A character named Bardo (Joel Moore) exists only to orient our hero, Jerome Platz (Max Minghella). Bardo's the one who gives the speech, a staple of high school movies, pigeonholing the various types (Vegan Holy Man, Angry Lesbian, Kiss-Ass, etc.) who populate the student body of Strathmore Institute. Is this a spoof of other movies or just another variation on the theme? If you watched Six Feet Under, a lot of the school stuff will look familiar.

Jerome wants to be an artist so he can get laid a lot, like his idol, Picasso. (It hasn't worked yet.) He has two roommates. Vince (Ethan Suplee channeling Jack Black channeling John Belushi) is a film student trying to make a movie about the still-at-large "Strathmore Strangler." Matthew (Nick Swardson), a fashion major, is so obviously gay, despite saying he misses his girlfriend, it would be a surprise if he didn't come out by the end of the movie.

At first, Bardo and Vince make it their mission to help Jerome lose his virginity, but they give up after he becomes innocently enamored of Audrey (Sophia Myles), who poses nude for his class. ("I don't want just any girl....I have very high standards.") Jerome starts dating her, but so does a classmate, Jonah (Matt Keeslar), who is older, taller, and more experienced.

That's already a lot of characters; but then add professors (including John Malkovich and Anjelica Huston), gallery owners (Steve Buscemi, Michael Lerner) and alumni, distinguished (Adam Scott) and otherwise (Jim Broadbent), and you need at least a miniseries to accommodate them all.

Professor Sandiford (Malkovich), who boasts of having been "one of the first" to paint triangles, counsels Jerome to "experiment with all the arts, all the philosophies, all the lifestyles" while he's young.

Though no longer young or searching for a niche, Zwigoff and Clowes seem to be following Sandiford's advice, dabbling in the whodunit (the only murder shown is copied from Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train– as Bardo says in another context, "Oh wow, another ironic pop culture reference"), teen romance, and coming-of-age genres, and offering a look at the art world that may be sincere or satirical. (The film's ending is definitely satirical, and even more definitely unoriginal.)

Minghella is a decent actor who could be the next Jason Schwartzman– not necessarily an enviable goal. He and Myles smoke cigarettes relentlessly, which may be a sign of rebelliousness in this day and age, but hardly looks romantic to the 79 percent of American adults who don't smoke.

Perhaps it's occupational resonance, but my favorite lines were bits of art criticism, as when a fellow student disses Jerome's work as "totally September 10th" and Sandiford tells the class Jerome is "trying to sing in his own voice using someone else's vocal chords."

Zwigoff is trying to sing in someone else's voice using his own vocal chords. The result would be fine for someone else, but it's a disappointment coming from him.