The Chumscrubber

"The Chumscrubber" smugly heaps on half-baked ideas about media violence, the homogeneity of suburbia and the disintegration of the American family. Webster's defines "chum" as "animal or vegetable matter thrown overboard to attract fish" -- viewers may want to do the same with this planned summer release.

An insufferable, self-conscious cult movie, “The Chumscrubber” smugly heaps on half-baked ideas about media violence, the homogeneity of suburbia and the disintegration of the American family. Director Arie Posin and scribe Zac Stanford stick their toes into the satirical waters occupied by “American Beauty” and “Donnie Darko” in their debut feature, a shrill, over-the-top farce like last year’s “Stepford Wives” remake. Webster’s defines “chum” as “animal or vegetable matter thrown overboard to attract fish” — viewers may want to do the same with this planned summer release from DreamWorks’ fittingly named specialty division, Go Fish (working in tandem with Newmarket) as well.

Brooding teenager Dean (Jamie Bell), who lives amidst the curving cul-de-sacs of a Southern California subdivision, discovers the body of his best (and only) friend, Troy (Josh Janowicz), hanging from a noose in Troy’s bedroom. Dean fails to immediately notify anyone of his discovery, but that doesn’t overly bother Dean’s self-absorbed parents — a bestselling self-help author (William Fichtner) and a Better Homes and Gardens-ready housewife (Allison Janney).

But bigger problems face Dean. Neighborhood roughneck Billy (Justin Chatwin), his girlfriend Crystal (Camilla Belle) and their ever-present sidekick Lee (Lou Taylor Pucci) have relied on Troy to supply them with “feel good pills” and they now are sure Dean must know the whereabouts of Troy’s stash.

Following a stream of threats, the trio concocts a scheme to kidnap Dean’s little brother (Rory Culkin) for ransom until Dean wises up. Only, they snatch the wrong kid, this one the son of a divorced interior decorator (Rita Wilson) who’s so caught up in the preparations for her marriage to the town’s mayor that she doesn’t notice that her child has disappeared.

That’s but the beginning of the broadly overplayed satire that masquerades as sly social commentary throughout “The Chumscrubber.” Before pic reaches the end of its exhausting 107 minutes, Troy’s grieving mother (Glenn Close, seemingly stuck in “Stepford Wives” automaton mode) absolves the whole neighborhood of responsibility for Troy’s death; Ralph Fiennes’ mayor flips out; and Dean begins having heart-to-heart talks with pic’s titular creation, a decapitated video-game avenger who’s part alter-ego, part antagonist, a la the 6-foot-tall bunny rabbit of “Donnie Darko” fame.

Unlike “Darko,” however, “The Chumscrubber” doesn’t have an original bone in its body or a compelling thought in its head. It never settles on a consistent tone or develops a sympathetic character. Rather, from the garishly lit images of cinematographer Lawrence Sher to the drag-show level of camp Posin encourages (and gets) from most of his actors, “The Chumscrubber” essays its points with all the subtlety of press-on fingernails screeching their way across a blackboard.

Reductive and simplistic pic simply plods along, glibly recycling oft-iterated sentiments about the disconnect between parents and children and the angst of being a teenager, before making the touchy-feely resolution thatwe’re all inmates trapped in social prisons of our own construction.

Assimilated into a sprawling ensemble, the prodigiously talented Bell has far fewer opportunities to flex his formidable acting muscles than he did in last fall’s “Undertow.” Fellow cast members are similarly underserved.

The Chumscrubber

  • Production: A DreamWorks, Newmarket Films release of an El Camino Pictures, Equity Pictures Medienfonds GmbH & Co. KG II production. Produced by Lawrence Bender, Bonnie Curtis. Executive producers, Bob Yari, Joseph Lautenschlager, Philip Levinson, Michael Beugg, Andreas Thiesmeyer. Co-producers, Lee Clay, Susanne Bohnet, Manfred D. Heid, Gerd Koechlin, Robert Katz. Directed by Arie Posin. Screenplay, Zac Stanford; story, Posin, Stanford.
  • Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Lawrence Sher; editors, William S. Scharf, Arthur Schmidt; music, James Horner; music supervisor, Chris Douridas; production designer, Patti Podesta; art director, Christopher Tandon; set decorator, Maria Nay; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital), Shawn Holden; supervising sound editor, Peter Brown; assistant directors, Cas Donovan, Michael Helfand; casting, Anya Colloff, Amy McIntyre. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Premieres), Jan. 25, 2005. Running time: 107 MIN.
  • With: Dean Stiffle - Jamie Bell Crystal Falls - Camilla Belle Billy - Justin Chatwin Mrs. Johnson - Glenn Close Charlie Stiffle - Rory Culkin Charlie Bratley - Thomas Curtis Mr. Peck - Tim DeKay Dr. Bill Stiffle - William Fichtner Michael Ebbs - Ralph Fiennes Parent - Richard Gleason Mrs. Parker - Caroline Goodall Officer Lou Bratley - John Heard Boutique Owner - Lauren Holly Mr. Parker - Jason Isaacs Mrs. Stiffle - Allison Janney Troy - Josh Janowicz Jerri Falls - Carrie-Anne Moss Lee - Lou Taylor Pucci Terri Bratley - Rita Wilson