Watching the news, you would think that living in a third world country during wartime would be the absolute pits. Struggling to locate food, desperate for safety, not knowing if each breath will be your last--what place on earth could possibly be worse to live? According to numerous filmmakers in Hollywood, the answer is plain and simple: suburbia.
The Chumscrubber proves once more that there is no worse place to reside than a cookie-cutter house on an idyllic block with perfectly trimmed lawns. Dean Stiffle (Jamie Bell) is just a typical disgruntled teenager living in Hillside with his family. One afternoon when he goes to visit his friend Troy, he is shocked to find him hanging by the neck; his lifeless body dangling to loud music blasting from the radio. Escaping his room, he encounters Troy’s mother Mrs. Johnson (Glenn Close) hosting a party. Rather than alert her about the tragedy he has discovered, he instead leaves the premises and abruptly heads home, assuming nobody would even care.
Sadly, Dean is right; nobody does care that Troy has committed suicide, if they’ve even taken the time to notice. People bring over casseroles to grieving Mrs. Johnson, but are ultimately too distracted with their shallow lives to attend his memorial. Dean is teased at school for his best friend ending his life, by delinquents hanging skeletons by the neck and tauntingly probing him, “Where’s your boyfriend?” Even Dean’s father Bill (William Fichtner), a psychologist whoring his new book “Happy Accidents”, seems more interested in getting material for future books than expressing genuine concern for his son’s loss.
The movie takes a turn for the worse when a crime subplot is thrown in that shifts the central focus onto itself. As it turns out, Troy was the resident drug dealer at school, and many students want to get their hands onto the drugs he has left behind. The leader of the pack, Billy (Justin Chatwin), which sounds appropriately like ‘bully’, will stop at nothing to possess the stash of pills. Followed around by lackies Crystal (Camilla Belle) and Lee (Lou Taylor Pucci), he decides to blackmail Dean into raiding Troy’s room for the drugs, by kidnapping his younger brother, Charlie, to use as bait. Considering that they do enough drugs to fry a small country, they accidentally kidnap the wrong kid, and he is the soon-to-be stepson of the Mayor (Ralph Fiennes). His mother (Rita Wilson) is too busy hyperactively planning for their wedding to even notice he is missing. Perhaps his abduction was for the best.
With the kidnapping, which happens fairly early on, The Chumscrubber trips and falls right on its face. Billy is such a one-dimensional monster, randomly throwing knives and laughing maniacally, that it’s impossible to form any kind of connection with him or his group of friends. Movie villains can be fun, entertaining and a wild bunch of bad-asses, but this particular group provides about as many laughs as a George Lopez stand-up routine. Crystal mopes around as though she has a conscience but it’s vanished like a missing pet, and Lee constantly looks as though an armed robber has climbed into his window and he’s forgotten the number for 911.
The savior of the film is Jamie Bell, who offers the only teenage character with more than one emotion and facial expression. He has raw talent in desperate need of a better outlet to be displayed. Clearly ripping off Donnie Darko, he is a reclusive outcast forced to take medication when he is perhaps the only sane person in his community. The Chumscrubber himself, a pop culture archetype in their area, is a character with his own TV show and video game that appears symbolically throughout the film. He also sounds a lot like Frank the Bunny after a few packs of cigarettes. The key distinction is that Donnie Darko is a fantastic movie, and The Chumscrubber is nothing more than a failed satirical circus created by people trying to appear hip to the youth of America.
Director Arie Posin and Writer Zac Stanford are relative newcomers to Hollywood, and their work broadcasts their inexperience. Unsure if they want to create a dark comedy or realistic drama, their movie tinkers somewhere in between: a dark comedy without humor and a drama without realism. Congratulations for a job well done.