Art School Confidential shares something in common with the pretentious art it angrily parodies. Namely, intellectually insecure critics may feel the compulsion to praise it, because they think they don't understand it. But there's nothing profound to be taken from this misanthropic drudgery from Terry Zwigoff, a rancid misfortune from an artist fresh off of the joyously profane duo of Bad Santa and Ghost World. Art School Confidential is as much a precipitous decline for Zwigoff as Storytelling was for Todd Solondz, as I Heart Huckabees was for David O. Russell, or as Elizabethtown was for Cameron Crowe. The disappointment begins with Zwigoff making a perfunctory stab at his own college comedy, parading a succession of exaggerated art-school chicks for the protagonist (Max Minghella) to consider. This sequence is unfunny, but at least it's attempting a variation on a tired scenario. Somewhere in the second act, however, Zwigoff drops off the ledge from black comedy into something more dark and twisted. The plot comes to focus on a serial killer, on the nearly psychotic jealousy of our supposed protagonist, and on a character more gross and malevolent than three Bad Santas -- an embittered artist drowning in booze and his own spite, played by Jim Broadbent in a regrettable misuse of talent. Speaking of peculiar usage, producer John Malkovich's professor character is underwritten and unresolved, and Anjelica Huston appears so briefly, one wonders why she was even cast. The film's mean spirit even seeps into the production design, as the hallways and classrooms of Strathmore Institute are squalid and moldering. One suspects Zwigoff intended to make a lacerating critique of the art world and its whorish machinations. But he was fueled by such hatred, he couldn't sense how off-putting -- and how unlike a movie -- his message had become.