A facetious voice-over -- "This was the best of all possible worlds" -- introduces brooding loner Dean Stiffle (Jamie Bell of Billy Elliot), a teen caught between dueling self-helper parents, who's soon to discover his dead friend Troy (Josh Janowicz) behind the house of his party-throwing mother, Carrie (Glenn Close). Weeks later, Dean's best-selling psychiatrist-author father, Bill (William Fichtner), therapy-talks Dean sick about his lack of grief. Dad's cure: More of the same pharmaceuticals Dean's school's already drowning in.
At school, primo-punk Billy (Justin Chatwin), girlfriend Crystal (Camilla Belle), and toady Lee (Lou Taylor Pucci) demand Dean produce the late Troy's secret drug stash, aiming to kidnap his younger brother Charlie (Rory Culkin) as incentive. But, dimwits they are, they nab a different Charlie (Thomas Curtis), son of designer Terri Bratley (Rita Wilson), a woman too busy with her impending nuptials to spacey mayor Michael (Ralph Fiennes) to notice him missing.
Billy threatens to decapitate Charlie if Dean doesn't come through. Then, a drug mix-up has Dean hauled in by cop Lou (John Heard). Unable to convince anyone of the truth, Dean flips out, suffering visions of Troy as the vengeful "Chumscrubber." Finally, Dean saves Charlie, his efforts culminating in a community-focusing climax.
Touted as boldly original, first-time director Arie Posin's film is a mostly black & white world, propelled by the standard teen angst, seen through the shell-shocked eyes of Dean, a Generation-X (-box) James Dean incarnation at war with the usual everything. Uninspired, but simplistic. The ubiquity of Chum's free-flowing drugs, stilted mores, and backward priorities are a given, synonymous with "adult." From that indoctrination, we're to welcome its petitions for "entire life system" change. And we do... in the Chumscrubber universe. It's the rules. "Conjuring" escapes is the only hope... to somewhere else, or into "someone else" (like, oh, a dolphin-fetishist).
Magic, however, isn't what the film's ingredients are calling for. They need heart. The admirable acting ensemble and the myriad symbolisms--"dead-end" cul-de-sac lives, routine-escaping "happy accidents," "feel-good" pick-me-ups, majestic dolphins (not to mention the "bigger picture" organization of apparent chaos, far enough removed) -- they make for formidable stuff. But, lacking a soulful story, they're all dressed up with no place to go.
Chumscrubber is one of those films that takes refuge in pop-spiritualisms, like "there are no accidents," feeling free to skewer at will parent-child relations, grownups, and life in general. Spiteful at heart, the expression of its core sentiments -- the rage of abandoned children, the despair of deadened adults -- is frustrated by a nihilistic life-view borrowed from its nogginless title avenger. As such, there's not a parent in the film that isn't an egotistical moron. And if humanity exists in any of them, it's invariably to be kindled by some sacred interaction with adolescents or animal deities. Nothing against kids or nature. It's the sermonizing (in the guise of intimate interchange) that's insufferable.
Posin's falling just shy of all-out self-parody here, while overshooting his dramatic targets. Films like American Beauty walk a fine line between drama and satire, but Chum vacillates between them. It's an adolescent; it can't commit. And its gleeful disaffection deflates every intended epiphany or redemption. Thusly, when a distraught Dean reaches for a person over a pill, it's undercut by the whom he reaches for (an argument can be made for the pill). Worse yet, that scene's sandwiched between two other smug ones of Dean lesson-teaching Lou and Carrie, each in turn. Yeah, yeah, we all can learn from children. But preacher children (or directors) are a pain in the bum.
Chum's vanity undermines the grave significance of its archetypal plea "Don't ignore me," and its lust for any stimulation, even murder. There are glimmers of value -- e.g., Carrie in silent scream; Dean on how to explain Charlie going unmissed -- but, overall, the film remains as complacent as its Hillside denizens, unfortunately spawning the very mindset it rails against.
There's something very unctuous running beneath Chumscrubber's pretense of compassion and redemption -- something like, "Trust no one over 18!" Or maybe it's "chum." After all, the word can be used to refer to a foul mix of fish oil and blood used to attract ocean predators. So there you have it. The dolphin's really a shark in disguise.
Chum: It's what's for dinner.
Run time: 108 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 5th October 2006
Distributed by: Picturehouse
Production compaines: El Camino Pictures, Go Fish Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 1.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 35%
Fresh: 21 Rotten: 39
IMDB: 7.1 / 10
Director: Arie Posin
Screenwriter: Zac Stanford
Starring: Jamie Bell as Dean, Camilla Belle as Crystal, Justin Chatwin as Billy, Glenn Close as Carrie Johnson, Kathi Copeland as Parent #1, Rory Culkin as Charlie Stiffle, Thomas Curtis as Charlie Bratley, Tim DeKay as Mr Peck, David Ellison as Student #1, William Fichtner as Mr. Bill Stiffle, Ralph Fiennes as Mayor Michael Ebbs, Richard Gleason as Parent #2, Caroline Goodall as Mrs. Parker, John Heard as Officer Lou Bratley, Susan Hegarty as Aide to Mayor Ebbs, Lauren Holly as Boutique Owner, Jason Isaacs as Mr. Parker, Allison Janney as Allie Stiffle, Josh Janowicz as Troy, Eric Jungmann as Student #2, Carrie-Anne Moss as Jerri Falls, Jeff Parise as Aide to Mayor Ebbs, Lou Taylor Pucci as Lee, Laura Shanahan as Party Goer #1, Scott Spiro as Party Goer #2, Max Van Ville as Student #3, Rita Wilson as Terri Bratley
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