The pathetic, unintentionally hilarious “New Best Friend” is a cautionary after-school special gone completely berserk, an anti-drug movie so loopy that it seems to be on speed itself. If you’re a connoisseur of “le bad cinema,” you should give it a look; otherwise, you’d be well advised to stay many leagues away.
The very structure of the picture is laughably bad. It’s fashioned as a mystery, beginning with the overdose of a poor but brilliant student named Alicia (Mia Kirshner), a local girl who lives with her waitress mom, at the fictional Colby College. Under prodding from the angry parent, Sheriff Arnie Bonner (Taye Diggs) looks into the circumstances behind the tragedy, even though the all- powerful college dean advises him to be discreet or face losing his job. The investigation leads him to three rich girls who’d recently gotten close to Alicia–Hadley (Meredith Monroe), Julianne (Rachel True) and Sydney (Dominique Swain)–and to Hadley’s boyfriend Trevor (Scott Bairstow), a nice guy who’d connected with her. (Absurdly enough, everything stems from Alicia’s being teamed with Hadley in a class project–a sociological study of how poor children react to being put in close contact with wealthy ones. Oh, the irony!) The story, presented in a series of disordered, clumsy flashbacks, reveals how Alicia’s personality changed under her new friends’ influence, how she sought advantages for herself from their acquaintance, and how it all led to disaster.
Unfortunately, in this case the disaster is up on the screen for all to see. The script is cluttered with banalities and loose ends, closing with a long-winded exposition of what happened that takes us to new levels of the ridiculous, and the production is so threadbare (the offices look like closets) that it has the grainy quality of a sloppy home movie. The acting, moreover, is awful. That’s particularly sad in the case of Kirshner, a lovely and talented girl who’s credible in neither of Alicia’s personas–the mousy brain she’s originally presented as, or the sultry party chick she becomes. (The frequent cuts to her lying comatose on a hospital bed are, to add insult to injury, extremely unflattering.) Diggs, meanwhile, mopes about as though he’d been given absolutely no direction; it certainly doesn’t help that he has to deliver the idiotic narration used to tie the piece together–some of the lame lines he recites will provoke howls of laughter. Monroe, True and Swain are embarrassingly inept, with Monroe taking the palm among them (her role, being the largest, has much the greatest opportunity for embarrassment). Of the principals only Bairstow emerges virtually unscathed: true, he looks throughout as though he’s shocked by what’s going on around him, but in the circumstances that amazed expression seems appropriate.
“New Best Friend” is atrocious, to be sure, but what sets it apart from most really lousy movies is its intense seriousness, the fact that its makers seem to have been blissfully oblivious to what they were perpetrating. That gives the picture a touch of Ed Wood-level lunacy, and makes it one that afficionados of campy trash might relish. But it’s still trash.