Arie Posin’s feature debut The Chumscrubber vies for the wide-open humanism of an Altmanesque tapestry, but it’s vision of suburban living is about as artificial and narrow-minded as the original NES Paperboy game it appears to evoke during its opening CGI sequence. It’s somewhere in the film’s white-picket-fenced America that Dean Stiffle (Jamie Bell) refuses to grieve the suicide of his drug-pushing buddy Troy (Josh Janowicz), at least not to the satisfaction of his father Bill (William Fitchner), who prescribes his son the same kind of meds the boy and everyone else from his school were already getting from Troy, whose mother (Glenn Close) is one casserole dish short of landing a Stepford role on Desperate Housewives. Hankering for a fix, Billy (Justin Chatwin, borrowing Scott Mechlowicz’s grungy couture and bad attitude from Mean Creek) and two friends kidnap Dean’s brother in order to get him to secure Troy’s secret stash, but when they kidnap the wrong kid (!), Dean has to decide if this complete stranger deserves to lose his head like the titular star of a fictional TV show and video game in the film.
Chumscrubber wants to be the next Donnie Darko but it’s nothing more than a gene-splice of American Beauty and The United States of Leland: a preposterously pitched, joylessly chic vision of lily-white suburbia, with over-medicated kids vying for the attention their parents don’t know how to give them and the shit that goes down when they can’t stand it anymore. Like Mean Creek, the film derives its only thrill—perverse, albeit cheap—from the abduction of a child and what may or may not happen to him. More carelessly, Posin’s fascination with the baby-faced Bell’s superiority (he’s not crazy, everyone else is!) enters dangerously idiotic and self-obsessed terrain. Posin doesn’t make the mistake of focusing too much on the parents, he simply assigns them all the blame: In scene after scene, the film’s adults ignore the warning bells their kids are ringing, and if you listen carefully, you might be able to make out Helen Lovejoy squealing, “Won’t someone please think of the children!”
As an interior designer about to get married to the town’s mayor (Ralph Fiennes), Rita Wilson doesn’t notice that her son has been missing for days; Buñuel tackled this parent-child disconnect with poker-faced bravado in The Phantom of the Liberty, and while Posin may understand the situation for the absurdity that it is, he and Wilson attack it with shrill cheekiness. For Posin, the world is a petri dish—or an aquarium (don’t even get me started on the ludicrous dolphin metaphors)—and the microorganisms he cultivates exist only to be prodded, squashed, and condescended to. If his actors didn’t try so hard to be funny, or if his view of human behavior wasn’t so contrived (according to the film, the only thing that separates an Al Gore from a Jackson Pollack is a nervous breakdown—nothing more, nothing less), it might be easier to swallow the way the film insipidly pitches itself as a cure for our Prozac Nation.