While this tale of teenage angst and kneejerk rebellion is as surreal as
"Donnie Darko," it shares
some elements of otherworldliness. For one, it's set in Hillside, a
community ruled by the reality of a video arcade. Judging by the alien
nature of its inhabitants, you'd need a passport to take up residence. Or, a
genetic profile that assures abnormality. The metaphorical reference (and
the title's) is a character whose head is carried around like a bowling
When young Dean Stiffle (Jamie Bell) visits neighbor Mrs. Johnson's (Glenn
Close) place during a block party out in the patio, his intention is to
stroll unnoticed through the guests to her son Troy's (Josh Janowicz)
apartment on the other side of the pool. When he enters the room from which
the wall of sound bars his door-knocking arrival, the discovery of his best
friend hanging from the ceiling, dead, puts this disgruntled teenager into a
state of shock. He leaves the way he came, and just as silently. He later
claims that he said nothing because he assumed no one would care.
Under police inquiry, he also says he barely knew Troy, and that no, he has no
friends. And, to an extent, it's true. There's virtually no else at school
he can relate to, and certainly not to luscious Crystal Falls, (Camilla
Belle) a girl who knows just what kind of effect she has on boys and men.
But Dean seems immune to it, trying to figure out what bully Billy's (Justin
Chatwin) girlfriend wants with him.
Well, it appears she's fronting for Billy's little rat pack in an attempt to
get Troy's stash (though she's also apparently attracted to his remote
individuality). Troy was the drug dealer on campus, and his stock of pills
is legend. It's also the object of a desire that won't be refused. When
Crystal's efforts are rebuffed, Billy kidnaps Charley Bratley (Thomas Curtis)
a boy he and his band of geniuses think is Charlie Stiffle, (Rory Culkin)
Dean's younger brother, as ransom for the drugstore stash.
Meanwhile, Charley Bratley's mom Terri (Rita Wilson) is too involved in her
real estate business and her wedding plans with Mayor Michael Ebbs, (Ralph
Fiennes), a character with a tendency to become zoned by trivialities that
don't exist, to notice that her son is missing. Carrie-Anne Moss enriches
the charade as Crystal's mom, a lady with big boobs and a growing attraction
for the slipping mayor, who may become a philanderer even before he's
Alison Janney takes on the role of Dan's spacey mom and should never have
left the podium of "West Wing." His father (William Fichtner), as the author
of best-selling pop psychology books, treats his son to his "expert opinions"
as he makes notes for his next book idea.
John Heard is Terri's ex and local police officer still carrying the torch
for Terri. And, while the kidnapping and its dangerous elements escalating
into knife stabbing takes center stage, Mrs. Johnson gets the message out to
all her friends that she doesn't blame any of them for her
son's death. She goes on with plans for a funeral (that just happens to
coincide with Terri and Michaels wedding), and when her plants and flowers
are crushed by spectators, labors through the night with her trowel and
gloves until Dean dreams she's in his room.
This takes us to the edge of surreality, except that it's mostly taken over
by campy zaniness. Jamie Bell, however, plays it modestly and straight,
keeping a leaky craft threatened by the shoals of self-destruction on course.
Camilla Belle, too, remains centered enough to make us wish we were seeing
her in a different movie which, as we witness her beauty and talent, makes
that prospect as inevitable as rain.
As for the creative minds behind "Chumscrubber," (Arie Posin for directing
and story, Zac Stanford for screenplay) a strange title begets a
strange story; a film that journeys outside any known genre guidelines in
~~ Jules Brenner