"Underneath the Surface of Paradise"
What You Need To Know:
Rated R, THE CHUMSCRUBBER is, for the most part, very well done. The acting and direction are superb, and the climax is frightening and suspenseful. The movie also has some strong moral points to make, especially against inattentive parents, drugs and mindless video games. But, its Romantic worldview contains heavy-handed, elitist attacks on American suburban life and American families. Thus, despite its clever moral points, the movie is another elitist movie providing more fodder to the world’s phobia against America.
(RoRo, Pa, APAP, PC, BB, LLL, VV, S, N, AA, DDD, MM) Strong Romantic worldview with some New Age pagan themes that attacks American suburban life and, by extension, the American family, but some strong moral points are made against drugs, against parental apathy and against letting children play video games all the time; about 50 obscenities (including many “f” words), six strong profanities and four light profanities; strong violence includes stabbings, car runs into young man whose body rises high in the air in slow motion, man accidentally hit on head by falling object, boy finds body of friend who hanged himself, threats of violence, a fistfight with some wrestling, and some video-game violence (but nothing in-your-face graphic or gory); no graphic or implied sex scenes, but mother parades her body before people, including daughter’s high-school friends, one of whom is clearly interested in his friend’s mom, and married couple that unknowingly consumed drugs in food kiss passionately on a couch in front of people at an informal memorial service in grieving mother’s home; upper male nudity, some female cleavage, teenage boy secretly watches woman’s nude back, and woman in bikini; alcohol use and teenage alcohol use; some smoking and high school student sells “feel-good pills,” teenage boy often pops “feel-good pills” prescribed by his therapist father, boy threatens people to get dead school pusher’s stash of illicit pills, boy mashes “feel-good pills” and puts the concoction into a casserole designed for a potluck, and adults get stoned on casserole laced with “feel-good pills”; and, kidnapping, parents are clueless and even apathetic, lying, adults don’t listen even when children are telling the truth which clearly encourages children to hide truth from their parents, breaking into school records, bullying and name-calling at school, child plays video games all day, man has New Age epiphany, and teenager says that finding a dead body was nothing like all the dead bodies he’s seen on TV.
THE CHUMSCRUBBER is an independent movie with an unusual release. Instead of releasing it in New York and Los Angeles first, it has been released in smaller cities like Portland, Ore. and Kansas City, Mo. to avoid the artsy, demanding critics in those towns and build buzz among older teenagers and young adults. Apparently, the ploy did not work, and the big city release has been delayed until sometime in September.
Set in an idyllic suburb in Anywhere, USA, the movie opens with narration by young Dean Stiffle, who reveals how one of the students at his high school, Troy, sells “feel-good pills” to practically every student there. Dean goes to visit his friend Troy while Troy’s mom holds a barbecue. In the small guest house where Troy lives, Dean discovers that Troy has hung himself. Shocked, Dean leaves without saying a word to anyone.
The next morning, Dean’s father, a self-help therapist with a couple bestsellers under his belt, prescribes his own feel-good pills for Dean to take. Dean obeys, even though he denies that he’s “all broken up” about Troy’s suicide. In fact, Dean says he has no friends.
At school, Dean’s claim that he has no friends is borne out when the school bully, Billy, plays a horrible trick on Dean. Then, Crystal, a beautiful student who is part of Billy’s crowd, tries to befriend Dean, but Dean is skeptical. Dean’s doubts are borne out when it turns out that Billy was using Crystal to convince Dean to get hold of Troy’s stash of drugs for them.
Later that day, Billy bullies Crystal and their friend Lee to plot a kidnapping scheme. After school, they phone Dean at home and tell him that they’ve kidnapped Dean’s little brother Charlie. Dean checks the family room where Charlie always sits mesmerized playing violent video games. Billy’s gang has kidnapped the wrong Charlie. They’ve kidnapped the son of divorced police officer Lou Bratley and interior decorator Terri. Terri doesn’t even notice the disappearance of her son until much later when she’s informed, as a ruse, that he’s supposedly staying over at Crystal’s house. Terri is too wrapped up in her own plans to marry the town mayor, Michael Ebbs, and Crystal’s apparently sex-starved mom is unaware that her daughter has helped kidnap Terri and Lou’s son.
Although they’ve kidnapped the wrong boy, Billy threatens to hurt the boy unless Dean brings Troy’s stash to him. As the teenagers play out their botched kidnapping, Troy’s devastated mother plans a memorial service on the same day as and across the street from Terri’s home-decorated wedding. Meanwhile, Terri’s groom, Michael, is mesmerized by a New Age vision he’s had and the newest book from Dean’s dad. He can’t wait to tell Terri all about it, but she’s not listening to him either. It becomes obvious that all the adults are oblivious not only to what their children are doing, but also what’s happening with their closest neighbors.
Throughout all this are plotless scenes from a post-apocalyptic video game where the Chumscrubber, a video game character who carries his head with him, fights zombies. Dean’s brother plays this game at a crucial point, and the drugs his father gave Dean induce visions of Troy as the Chumscrubber.
It’s easy to see why THE CHUMSCRUBBER stumbled at the gate trying to reach Middle America. Not only is it rated R for language, drug content and adult themes, it also is a satire on Middle America that takes an elitist, hipster’s view toward suburbia. Like the teenagers and young adults it’s trying to reach, the movie claims that it knows more than their middle-class American parents.
Still, THE CHUMSCRUBBER is, for the most part, very well done. The acting and direction are superb, and the climax is frightening and suspenseful. Despite his shock over Troy’s death and his drug-induced fog instigated by his father, Dean eventually makes a stand against the evil Billy, who’s just about the most evil villain in recent memory. Jamie Bell is excellent as Dean, as is Justin Chatwin as Billy. The adults are played by such people as Glenn Close, John Heard, Ralph (“Rafe”) Fiennes (“Fine”), Carrie-Anne Moss, and Rita Wilson, the talented wife of Tom Hanks. Glenn Close and Jamie Bell share a very poignant, brilliant scene toward the end, where they talk about their true feelings about Troy’s suicide.
Thus, CHUMSCRUBBER has some fine, positive moments and provocative insights. These positive elements include a strong stance against drugs, against parental apathy and against letting children play video games all the time, much less violent video games. Like most movies in this sub-genre, however, its attacks on American suburban life and American families are at times heavy-handed and elitist. CHUMSCRUBBER is not as offensive as stronger politically correct movies like AMERICAN BEAUTY, however. Although its worldview is strongly Romantic, and thus lacks pro-Christian content, it has some strong moral points to make. Despite this, MOVIEGUIDE® gives the movie an excessive rating, because people who see THE CHUMSCRUBBER will have another unjust reason to attack and undermine the United States.
The ultimate problem with this movie may be that the filmmakers don’t recognize the sinful nature of mankind. Also, they probably live in a world, as most people do, that discounts and mocks the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is MOVIEGUIDE®’s mission to preach that Gospel and its Truth so that we can redeem the values of filmmakers who make movies like THE CHUMSCRUBBER. Everyone has sinned and fallen far short of the Glory that is God’s. Only God, through Jesus Christ, can enlighten us to turn away from our sins and put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, whose resurrection from the dead is an historical fact that can be tested by the enlightened reason that Jesus Christ has given to all men (John 1:9). We preach this Gospel not through our own power, but through the power of God, who commands us to preach it to everyone. Becoming a good neighbor and a good parent is part of this Gospel, but the adults in THE CHUMSCRUBBER seem to lack that trait.