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Crime + Punishment in Suburbia

Starring Vincent Kartheiser, Monica Keena, Ellen Barkin, Jeffrey Wright, James DeBello, Michael Ironside
Screenplay by
Based on the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Directed by Rob Schmidt

IN SHORT: strictly arthouse. [Rated R for brutal violence, strong sexuality, language and substance abuse. 98 minutes]

You know you're in for a "rollicking good, life enervating time" at the movies when the first thing you see on the big screen is a quote from a letter written by Dostoevsky, who penned the original "Crime and Punishment," to his brother, a day before the Czar's firing squad was to let loose on his Russian butt. Let us emphasize that we're being sarcastic, just in case. The quote had something to do with still having hope, even in the face of the inevitable, and it's an appropriate start to an emotionally numbing movie -- in real life Dostoevsky was reprieved and sentenced to a minimum of four years hard labor in Siberia and would survive to live a fairly long life, though the film doesn't clue you in to that "happy" ending.

Writer Larry Gross' reworking, now titled of Crime + Punishment in Suburbia, places us squarely in the California 'burbs. There, just like anywhere, the teens obsess about sex, the marriages are cracking or cracked and no one seems to be able to talk to anyone else. Central to our story are the picture perfect teen couple, Roseanne Skolnick (Monica Keena) and Jimmy Burroughs (James DeBello). She's a cheerleader. He's a football star. An admired and envied couple, which means that the high school crowd will turn like a pack of wolves once they're given reason.

It's a good thing that Roseanne has a fine upstanding young stalker-in-training like Vincent (Vincent Kartheiser) keeping his eyes out for her and photographing her every move. Jimmy's threats don't keep him away. Roseanne's pleas have just a little impact. But Vincent just knows that Roseanne is about to crack. He sees the signs. Roseanne's mom (Ellen Barkin) and stepdad (Michael Ironside) argue about mundane matters such as where Mom is going to spend her girl's night out. Their arguments spill out on to the street and all the neighbors hear the femme wish that her hubby were dead. The kids at the school hear the stories, and they're spreading their own gossip about how Roseanne is about to lose it.

It doesn't help that dad catches mom with a local bartender (Jeffrey Wright) -- the teen gossips have a field day with that -- or chases the woman out of his house at the point of a gun. No, a lifetime of nightly drunks twists Dad's anger until it points at Roseanne and something really unpleasant happens between father and daughter. Something that would normally involve police. But Roseanne goes to Jimmy to help her attain revenge and he, being the loving fool that he is, pins the father's arms back as Roseanne lets loose with something pointy and sharp. The police bust the obvious suspect and the murder trial moves steadily towards its obvious conclusion.

We're going to stop right there because director Rob Schmidt has managed to do two important things by this point. He has established a situation in which we are totally repulsed by the murder which occurs -- and we've sat through enough slice 'n' dice flicks to know truly repulsive. He has also failed, and in this case we put just as much blame on the script, to make us believe that Roseanne's actions would be those that would occur if this situation were happening in real life. Do we believe that a woman attacked by her own father wouldn't go to the police? Yes, we believe it is possible. Do we believe it based on the situations we see in this film? We don't, and we don't see a foundation on which that assumption can be built.

Sorry. It's not often that we find ourselves talking the way critics on the art house circuit talk -- analyzing details rather than the overall story. Crime + Punishment is the story of one truly screwed up teen. While it tries to make the case for (ultimately) taking responsibility for one's actions, we didn't believe the twists and turns the story took to get there. Of the adult roles, we don't believe the character shift that Michael Ironside goes through. We certainly didn't believe the decision made by Roseanne as she rides off into the sunset at the end of the flick, but we'll let you suffer through all the emotional attacks that come first, if you must know.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Crime + Punishment in Suburbia, he would have paid...


midweek rental level. Not recommended for anyone outside of film students haunting the local art house.

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