August 4th, 2005
I’m all for trips into suburban hell, but “The Chumscrubber” goes way too far trying to cynically detail housing developments and their poisonous hearts. Some of the performances work very well, but the sheer weight of amateur hour hangs heavy over the production, with the weighty themes presented sinking like a stone when it comes time to pay them off.
Dean (an excellent Jamie Bell) is a high school loner who witnessed his best friend's suicide, but failed to inform his mother (Glenn Close) about it at the time. Burdened with guilt, Dean willingly medicates himself with prescription drugs from his unbearable psychiatrist father (William Fichtner), and tries to put the event out of his mind. However, when a group of school thugs (Justin Chatwin, Lou Taylor Pucci, and the stunning Camilla Belle) come calling to retrieve stolen drugs that were promised to them by his dead friend, Dean is pushed into confronting his idiosyncratic, idyllically average suburban neighborhood, where the residents (including Carrie-Anne Moss, Ralph Fiennes, Rita Wilson, Lauren Holly, John Heard, Caroline Goodall, Jason Issacs, and Allison Janney) just haven't been themselves lately.
Don't let the flashy title fool you; "Chumscrubber" is another decent into angsty suburban hell, a topic independent films love with a suffocating passion that rivals Lenny and his beloved rabbits.
Because so many no-budget productions are eager to detail the strangulation of society, feelings, and hope that, I guess, goes on in today's suburbia, "Chumscrubber" comes off as old hat. Dan Harris's "Imaginary Heroes" took on the subject mere months ago, and he was able to craft a picture with feeling, desperation, and lacking a sharp cynical point of view. "Chumscrubnber" doesn't have such lofty aspirations.
Making his feature-length directorial debut is Arie Posin, and his objective with the "Chumscrubber" is to plunge into the big black heart of housing developments; where emotions are kept in check with pharmaceutical time bombs and children are the last things on their parents' minds. Posin has some interesting initial visual ideas for his picture, and he fell into one of those annual "we're doing this for the little guys" cast lists, where B-list actors ditch their normal salary to come to play the indie film lottery. Some of the actors liven up Posin's pedestrian direction (Fiennes especially, and he's given dolphin imagery to work with for heaven's sake) and Zac Stanford's tedious screenplay, which doesn't leave one suburban-mocking idea behind. Other performances in the film are unreasonably high-pitched, including actor Justin Chatwin taking it upon himself to toss in a performance akin to a teenage James Bond villain just to stand out in the blizzard of hammy performances. His scenes are torture to watch.
"Chumscrubber" has some large ideas on the concept of medicating the youth of America, and the urges of the heart vs. the standards of society, but the finished film can't keep up with its ambitions, concluding with an all-too-easy act of violence to keep the audience invested. By that time, the clichés have piled up too high to really care, and the appearance of the title character (a headless, post-apocalyptic multi-media teenage character…ug, don't ask) only furthers the case that the filmmakers overshot their abilities on the film.
Note to independent filmmakers: we get it. Suburban America is a horrible place where individuality is ignored and everyone is a drone. You all share the same ideas. Now can you people get back to making movies about real conflicts and emotions like you used to do?
My rating: D+