I didn't get the "busting hookers" joke, either. Part of the problem is the camera moved outside the window (and his voice got fainter) as he was describing it.
Daniels Clowes is probably my favorite contemporary comic artist, and I've loved every movie Zwigoff has ever directed, so imagine my distress about halfway through "Art School Confidential" when I realized that not only did I dislike the protagonist Jerome (performed by a one-note Max Minghella) but the movie itself was not working for me. I found myself wishing that these were characters and dialogue that I could just read in a book by Clowes. For the most part, I already have -- and these situations worked so much better on the page. On screen they fall flat. Why does Ghost World work so effortlessly and ASC struggle so mightily?
I think despite all the "LA Confidential in an art school" aspirations, the screenplay was in the "graphic novel" format, and not enough of a cinematic work. Its pace is maddeningly slack, with loose, meandering takes and no sense of connectedness between many of the scenes. There are a few great performances (John Malkovich and Jim Broadbent, in particular) but their efforts are wasted on a ramshakle screenplay. ASC's (initially) amusing art school stereotypes wander around with nothing to do, and the audience is far ahead of every "twist". Even I could tell that the whole "murder" subplot is satirical (I've read enough Clowes to know that), but enough of the movie is played straight and it undercuts the satire. Subtler moments and jokes are killed by explanatory "comedic" dialogue:
When Jerome announces he has a girlfriend, you see a brief shot of his parents hugging in delight through an open door in the background - but then a character has to explain it out loud to us: "They thought you were a homo". Duh.
This is essentially too straight an adaptation of Clowes' comic style. It's not that the main character is essentially dim-witted and unlikable -- how much of that is due to Max Mingella's performance I have no idea -- but that we must "root" for him as a suitor and an artist. His romantic interest is never allowed to breathe. And there is no one compelling narrative thread (Ghost World had Enid). We're given so many characters and plotlines, yet so little is done with any of them.
So what is "ASC"? Dumb sex comedy about "getting laid"? Meaningful drama with a Beethoven adagio on the soundtrack? Harsh satire? Procedural thriller? Romantic comedy? It's all of those things, and less. It makes fun of these conventions while never breaking through them. I kept recognizing the brilliant "Clowes touch", but I couldn't bring myself to like the movie, and that was more frustrating than if it had been merely bad.
Sorry for the negative review. I was really looking forward to this one.