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The Chumscrubber

The Chumscrubber

Director:Arie Posin
Cast:Ralph Fiennes, Rita Wilson, William Fichtner, Allison Janney, Glenn Close, Josh Janowicz, Jamie Bell,Justin Chatwin, Lou Taylor Pucci, Camilla Belle,
Screen Writer:DreamWorks Entertainment
Release Date:2005

By Bret McCabe | Posted 2/8/2006

THE MOVIE Ah, the suburbs. Director Arie Posin dives into those well-tread, shallow waters of middle-class American anoia with his debut feature about a sunny neighborhood autarky where everything looks perfect on the surface—the mayor (Ralph Fiennes) and his interior-designing bride-to-be (Rita Wilson), popular child psych author Dr. Stiffle (William Fichtner) and his sunny wife (Allison Janney), popular entertaining mom Mrs. Johnson (Glenn Close)—while just below that smiling, placid facade, well, you know. The well-lubricated moms perpetually drink wine, the occupied men only focus on their careers, and at a boisterous backyard party Mrs. Johnson’s son Troy (Josh Janowicz) hangs himself in his pool-house room.

Dean Stiffle (Billy Elliot’s Jamie Bell, who has grown up into a less angular Crispin Glover), Troy’s very, very best friend, finds his high-school mate swinging from the ceiling and silently leaves in a haze of shock. What follows is how the neighborhood deals—make that, doesn’t deal—with his suicide, as sympathetic mothers can only smile and bring over casseroles to an overfriendly Mrs. Johnson. The kids handle the situation even worse, for Troy was the high-school connection, supplying everybody with the pills that make self-medicated life in suburban hell bearable. School bully Billy (Justin Chatwin) takes matters into his own hands, recruiting sidekick Lee (Lou Taylor Pucci) and girlfriend Crystal (Camilla Belle, the bad-girl version of Rachel Leigh Cook) into a scheme to make Dean sneak into Troy’s room and nab his stock. Dean balks, so Billy et al. decide to kidnap Dean’s brother Charlie (Rory Culkin) to force Dean’s hand. Problem is, they swipe the wrong Charlie—instead taking local police officer Lou Bratley’s (John Heard) scrawny 13-year-old (Thomas Curtis).

Like Donnie Darko’s Richard Kelly, Posin and screenwriter Zac Stanford are aiming for the carnivalesque phantasmagoria of David Lynch-lite, as their occasionally witty commentary track delving into their movie’s deeper meanings, overlapping motifs, and visual stylization attests. But The Chumscrubber—the name comes from a video game that appears in the flick—never achieves anything beyond its own narcotized narcissism. It does score a few howls—kids can sneak anything by a parent if they explain it with, “It’s for school”—but for such a teen-centric movie, the strongest performances come from the cartoonishly drawn adults. Fichtner, as always, effortless sinks into his calmly creepy father persona, and Fiennes’ zombiefied mayor is a slowly unpeeling onion of personality breakdown. Better still is Carrie-Ann Moss as Crystal’s single mom, Jerri, a woman whose every movement bristles with that combination of predatory sensuality and middle-aged desperation that makes MILFs so irresistible to assholic teenage horndogs and full-grown man-children alike.

THE DISC Outside the aforementioned commentary, a brief making-of featurette, and a few coming-attractions previews, the DVD is low on extras.

E-mail Bret McCabe

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