The Chumscrubber: At least it has to be better than its name, right? Sadly, no. The feature debut of writer Zac Stanford and director Arie Posin, The Chumscrubber has seemingly been assembled by cross-referencing tired points about suburban alienation with recent movies of note, and hoping that something new and interesting comes out of the process. It doesn't. Posin establishes early on that he has a real flair for the technical aspects of directing, and he's assembled—or, more likely, been handed by high-profile producers Lawrence Bender and Bonnie Curtis—a remarkable cast. The resulting film, however, is an example of how a film with camera and acting skills in its corner can still fall flat on its face.
From the grownups who spend the evening with a glass of red wine or a self-help book glued to their hands to the kids zonked out on pills or video games, everyone's an addict of one kind or another in the film's upper-middle-class California suburb. The sad-but-workable routine is broken early on when the drug-dealing best friend of star Jamie Bell commits suicide. Sending shockwaves through the two or three degrees separating its broadly drawn characters, the death puts Bell into conflict with Camilla Belle, Justin Chatwin, and Lou Pucci (star of the similarly named, and much better, Thumbsucker), three dealers who want Bell to lead him to his pal's stash. A misguided kidnapping follows, disrupting the lavish wedding plans of neighbors Ralph Fiennes and Rita Wilson and generally exposing the web of hypocrisy and coincidence that defines American suburbia.
Or at least it's meant to. But the film takes potshots at characters so broadly drawn and so defined by a single trait that they barely register as human. Glenn Close mourns, crazily. Bell's mom (Allison Janney) sells vitamins, constantly. Bell's dad (William Fichtner) uses everyone as material for his pop-psych books. And Wilson is so obsessed with her wedding that she doesn't even notice her missing son. Hey-o! The material reads as low sitcom, but the glossy style screams high seriousness, and unlike their models, Stanford and Posin can't master one tone, much less balance several. It's clear that all involved have spent a lot of time studying American Beauty, Requiem For A Dream, and especially Donnie Darko, whose careful atmosphere of detached humor and high emotions here sours into glibness. Even the score, by no less a talent than James Horner, apes Michael Andrews' beautiful Darko work. But that's the story of the film: Studio money chasing after the cult-film audience and getting all the superficial elements right while missing the spirit entirely. It's the cinematic equivalent of Candlebox.