Welcome to suburbanville. Mom (Allison Janney) is peddling vitamins as a radical life system solution. Dad (William Fichtner) is prescribing stronger medications to patients across the country by way of his best-selling self-help books. Even the town motto promises 'Carefree Living'. So when Dean (Jamie Bell) discovers his best friend Troy - the most enterprising drug pusher in high school - hanging from a noose in his poolside cabana, he doesn't know if he feels anything much at all.
Still, Dean's problems are only just beginning. Three of Troy's crew expect him to locate and hand over the remainder of the stash. Crystal (Camilla Belle) tries charm. When that doesn't work, Billy and Lee (Justin Chatwin and Lou Taylor Pucci) up the ante considerably by kidnapping Dean's younger brother Charlie (Rory Culkin). Only they pick up the wrong Charlie, plumping for little Charlie Bratley (Thomas Curtis) instead. You would think his mom would notice, but Terri Bratley (Rita Wilson) is marrying the mayor (Ralph Fiennes) tomorrow - and he has bigger fish to fry. So it all comes back to Dean.
Arie Posin's first feature is almost embarrassingly overloaded with star support, including (in addition to the above) such luminaries as Glenn Close (as Troy's numbly grieving mom), Carrie-Anne Moss, John Heard, Jason Isaacs, and Lauren Holly. It wouldn't have hurt that Spielberg associate Bonnie Curtis was Posin's producer.
Despite such credentials, The Chumscrubber is a dispiriting piece of work, and badly acted to boot. The son of a dissident Russian filmmaker who gew up in Israel and Canada before moving to the States, Posin (who co-wrote with Zac Stanford) wants to satirise America's superficial self-absorption, its increasing dependency on chemically filtered perception, and preoccupation with social status to the detriment of personal family relationships. The targets are legitimate (if increasingly hackneyed), but the sour, cynical script well falls short; with the exception of Dean and Charlie Bratley, all the characters are conceived with a disapproving scowl - it's as if the movie was set in Stepford.
Although the plot echoes Alpha Dog and the real-life crime behind it to some extent, the obvious model here is Donnie Darko. But where Richard Kelly successfully fashioned a weirdly familiar alternate universe (that likely existed in Donnie's own head), Posin's much cruder approach feels contrived and false. Even if Donnie didn't connect with his parents, Kelly was careful to make them register as sentient beings with an emotional and intellectual life of their own. Everyone in The Chumscrubber is stuck with a single caricatured note.
Crystal barely even gets that much: Camilla Belle notched up good reviews for in The Ballad of Jack and Rose but she's all at sea here as a character who's obviously too smart and sensitive to be hanging out with a violent meathead like Billy, but never smart enough to raise the alarm or help Charlie escape. She looks the part, but only if the part has to be played by a pin-up. As for Jamie Bell, he looks grim and dejected throughout, like someone's stolen his tap shoes.
As superficial and humourless as the world from which it is so archly alienated, the film feels much longer than its 102 minute running time. Let me point you to Mean Creek, or Bully, or Thumbsucker, or River's Edge, or Elephant or Pretty Persuasion instead. The terrible title, by the way, is the name of an ugly videogame that intrudes on Donnie's - sorry, Dean's - consciousness from time to time.
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