The Chumscrubber is armed with an A-list ensemble cast, but such a luxury is not enough to save this overwrought, uninspired satirisation of contemporary life in the American suburbs. Although a handful of performances work extremely well, this hybrid of American Beauty and Donnie Darko is hindered by the sense of amateurism which shrouds the production. Not to mention, the film’s observations about suburban banality are no longer original. Unoriginality is a given in this day and age, but The Chumscrubber seems to be entirely reliant on its messages to see it through, with writers Arie Posin (who also directed) and Zac Stanford apparently calling it a day after throwing their derivative observations in the script. Thus, the dialogue is drab and the pacing is stiff, making The Chumscrubber far less engaging than the films it set out to emulate.
One afternoon in an idyllically average suburban neighbourhood, Dean (Bell) finds that his best – and only – friend Troy (Janowicz) has committed suicide by hanging himself in his bedroom. Troy was the local school’s drug supplier, and the students are yearning for another delivery of happy pills. Three of Dean’s classmates – Billy (Chatwin), Crystal (Belle) and Lee (Pucci) – demand for him to deliver Troy’s drug stash to them, and look to kidnap Dean’s brother Charlie to hold him for ransom. But the hapless trio kidnap the wrong Charlie; they accidentally snatch the son of a local cop (Heard) whose divorced wife (Wilson) is about to marry the mayor (Fiennes).
All of the actors, while talented, were saddled with stereotypes of suppressed middle-class America. Posin and Stanford would probably have us believe that they employed stereotypes for the sake of satire, yet the characters lack required depth for proper satire; they’re all surface-level and none of them seem to act like actual human beings. For instance, the mayor’s sudden airy dolphin obsession merely results in a number of “what the fuck?” moments, the kidnapped Charlie never screams for help or tries to escape or even realises he’s in danger, Dean for some reason agrees to take pills at his father’s behest despite being so adamant that he’s fine… The whole ensemble are poorly fleshed-out plot pawns whose motivations never go beyond “because the script demands it”. This is probably because Posin and Stanford bit off more than they could chew – there are far too many characters in too many stories, denying the chance for proper character development.
The titular Chumscrubber is a headless video game hero who walks the desolate planet battling the forces of evil. This is, of course, a metaphor for Dean who tries to battle the superficialities of his neighbourhood. How trite and obvious can you get? The Chumscrubber is Arie Posin’s first feature film, and his inexperience is obvious in the banal, pedestrian filmmaking and the unsubtle way that he tries to deliver his satire. The flick has its moments from time to time, but Posin has a terrible grasp on pacing, storytelling and subtlety.
The topic of suburban banality is not new to anybody who’s seen the likes of American Beauty and Blue Velvet, or even Desperate Housewives and Edward Scissorhands. Yet, indie filmmakers seem to find the subject irresistible, and are overeager to explore what happens behind the innocent-looking white picket fences. Posin had big ambitions for his first feature, but he had no idea what to do with them.