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Crime and Punishment in Suburbia   D

United Artists

Year Released: 2000
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Rob Schmidt
Writer: Larry Gross
Cast: Monica Keena, Vincent Kartheiser, Ellen Barkin, Jeffrey Wright, James DeBello, Michael Ironside.

Review by Jeremiah Kipp

After dashing suburban values to hell with Todd Solondz's Happiness, edgy production company Killer Films returns to the fray with Crime and Punishment in Suburbia. With all the finesse of a dull kitchen knife, this loose adaptation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's classic Russian novel attempts to strip away the layers of small-town hypocrisy. This self-satisfied waste of space, care of flashy new filmmaker Rob Schmidt, manages to be even more insipid than the overrated American Beauty, if that were possible.

On the surface, everything's just fine. One of the most popular girls in school, beautiful cheerleader Roseanne (Monica Keena) is dating the hunky captain of the football team (James DeBello). They'll make a great yearbook photo -- freshly scrubbed, blonde, attractive, shiny white teeth. Pictures of a different kind are being taken by the eccentric class loser, Vincent (Vincent Kartheiser, Another Day in Paradise). This pale, scrawny rebel skulks around in the bushes, snapping photos as Roseanne is fingered by her horny boyfriend. As he decides to "look closer" (a la Wes Bentley), he discovers that the picture perfect Roseanne is being raped by her drunken beast of a father (Michael Ironside, shamelessly overacting).

Roseanne's mother (Ellen Barkin, Switch) is out of the loop, having run off with a handsome, well-spoken bartender (Jeffrey Wright, a brilliant actor left stranded in an underwritten role). Suddenly, all the kids in school are gossiping about Roseanne's family -- mommy ran away, daddy got his ass kicked by her salsa-hot black lover at the local Bagel-Mart. Roseanne comes to the conclusion that if you're the child of fucked-up parents, you'll wind up fucked-up yourself. It's eye-rolling observations like these, peppered throughout absent minded voice-overs, that make Crime and Punishment a real chore to sit through without throwing darts at the screen. You'll have given up long before Vincent starts comparing himself to Jesus -- in fact, you'll probably give up once you're attuned to the chapter headings such as Part IV: The Dark Side of the Moon. Please.

As if you had any doubts where this tragi-comedy was headed -- a gun is introduced, an elaborate murder carried out with an electric carving knife, much moping about, and, for toppers, a scandalous trial where the wrong person is accused. It's about guilt, you see -- hence the tenuous Russian literature connection. Throughout, Vincent has very little effect on the plot, riding around on his bicycle and spouting his maddening observations on the state of the world, the lack of conscience in an apathetic universe, et cetera. He's the annoying kid who just read Sartre's Nausea and thinks he's got it all figured out.

When you're making a movie about bland suburbanites, why not have a visual look that is just as banal? Independent films such as this one suffer from the lack of a directorial voice, common among studio pictures. Indistinguishable from, say, The Tao of Steve, this is the epitome of good craftsmanship in the technical sense lacking any artistic credibility. Aside from the hyperstylized chapter headings, the cinematography would be perfectly at home in a car commercial.

An obvious example of the "suburbia as nightmare" is the presentation of a high school pep rally as a fiery Leni Reifenstahl-style nazi ceremony from Triumph of the Will. This angry montage comes complete with flaming torches, fists raised in the air, and a roaring crowd that sounds awfully close to, "Sieg Heil!" If Crime and Punishment honestly believes this is shedding new light on teenage nightmares, it would be way off the mark if it hadn't already been done to death in other movies.

Trying to fill the vacuous gap, Crime and Punishment is packed with songs every hipster will know and love. It doesn't matter. Instead of getting swept up as Vincent and Roseanne ride into the night on their trusty motorcycle, you'll remark to yourself, "Cool tune!" This cheap marketing ploy isn't enough to make Schmidt's painfully average vision feel any more cutting-edge. If you place an Armani suit on your front yard snowman as it bakes in the sun, that sucker is still gonna melt.

Review published 03.06.2001.

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