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Crime And Punishment In Suburbia


Crime And Punishment In Suburbia

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The placid, wholesome façade of suburbia has been shredded so many times in recent years that a truly novel film would find something redeemable about this conformist cesspool of depravity and dysfunction. Bearing only a superficial resemblance to Dostoyevsky's classic novel—and a stronger resemblance to American Beauty, which it slightly predates—Crime And Punishment In Suburbia wallows in its own predictably generic cesspool, but that's the least of its problems. More troubling is how screenwriter Larry Gross (a frequent Walter Hill collaborator) and director Rob Schmidt have managed to so thoroughly corrupt the skewed moral universe that makes the book a harrowing read. Rather than get inside the head of their Raskolnikov stand-in, an addle-brained teen played by Monica Keena (and clumsily named Roseanne Skolnik), Gross and Schmidt tell the story from the perspective of a creepy but sensitive voyeur (Vincent Kartheiser) who stalks her with his camera. Also unlike Raskolnikov, the murder Keena brings herself to commit is not of an anonymous and innocent old woman, but an abusive, liquor-swilling father (Michael Ironside) who rapes her after his marriage to Ellen Barkin crumbles. So, if the murder is motivated and the story is narrated by a black-clad Wes Bentley type with no connection to Raskolnikov, what remains of Dostoyevsky? In this case, virtually nothing but the crime and the punishment—a gratuitous hack job involving an electric carving knife and a not-so-subtle Christ allegory. (At one point, Kartheiser actually shows up wearing a Christ T-shirt.) Not a single relationship makes sense: How could Barkin have ever married Ironside, a man even more sadistic than his usual snarling-antagonist roles? And why does Keena care for either her lobotomized jock boyfriend or Kartheiser, a kid who drapes himself in garlic cloves to "ward off evil spirits"? From the start, Schmidt seems more interested in exploring the blurry optical effects of a Live video than in telling a coherent story; as if bored, he shoots an entire conversation by tracking through the dirty glasses on a bar countertop. Ugly and vapid, Crime And Punishment In Suburbia tackles two oft-mined institutions in its title and does little justice to either.