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'Crime and Punishment in Suburbia'

Another slice of life -- and dad -- in the 'burbs


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Beneath the veneer...

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(CNN) -- The best thing that can be said about Rob Schmidt's "Crime and Punishment in Suburbia" -- aside from the fact that it's over in less than two hours -- is that it doesn't glorify violence committed by sexy teens. It sure does show it, though.

Larry Gross' would-be brainy screenplay is inspired by Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," which is like saying "Rocky" was inspired by the New Testament. Sure, you can find similarities, but you have to look pretty hard.

Schmidt's kitchen-sink visuals and Gross' affected narration repeatedly imply that you're watching something Very Important, even though any fool can tell that that's not the case.

Alicia Silverstone look-alike Monica Keena plays Roseanne Skolnick (The name is "clever" because Dostoyevsky's protagonist is called Raskolnikov), a fresh-scrubbed high schooler who seemingly has it made in the shade. Roseanne's a babe with a formidable array of tight skirts and push-up bras, and she has a dazzling smile. Her handsome, sex-obsessed boyfriend (James DeBello) rounds out the equation.

Beneath the veneer...

But, as the movie's clumsy title implies, all is not well beyond the shrubbery.

Vincent (Vincent Kartheiser), the weird-but-sensitive kid in school, is obsessed with Roseanne and forever takes her picture with a telephoto lens. Her mom (Ellen Barkin) is a middle-aged smoldering type who needs a bit of tenderness in her life, but she's not about to get it from Roseanne's stepfather (Michael Ironside). He's such a noxious creep, you have to wonder why anyone would marry him in the first place. He sits on the couch swilling beer, bitching about the ol' ball and chain while leering at nubile Roseanne. Schmidt also lingers on Dad's obsession with violent TV programs in a failed attempt to generate some "this crazy world" menace.

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Soon, Barkin is flirting with a good-looking young bartender ("Shaft"'s Jeffrey Wright), which leads to an affair. When Dad finds out about it, he starts drinking hard stuff straight from the bottle and waving a gun. Mom quickly moves out of the house, inexplicably leaving her daughter behind with a violent, lecherous drunk.

Two seconds after you notice Ironside giving Keena the once-over, you sense a rape on the horizon. Sure enough, it happens right after mom flees the premises. In a startling burst of good taste, the attack takes place off-camera.

Roseanne's revenge, on the other hand, couldn't be any more blunt. She and her boyfriend drop by one night and, quite unprofessionally, stab dad to death in the living room. At first, Roseanne buries an everyday kitchen knife in the poor brute's chest. When that's not enough to take him down, she opts for (get this) the family's electric carving knife. Sticks it right through him, too.

Just try not to laugh while this is happening; the upper middle-class setting and the whirrrrrrrrrrrr of the knife adds a goofiness that's more befitting of a John Waters movie.

Mom is quickly hauled to the pokey for having killed her estranged husband. Roseanne, who's now growing intimate with Kartheiser's troubled voyeur, has to decide whether she should turn herself in or just go on as if nothing happened, which is the situation in which Dostoyevsky's hero found himself.

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Forget Dostoyevsky, though. If you dropped the rape and the inappropriate use of electronic cutlery, this would be an Afterschool Special about "telling the truth."

Everything gross to say about suburbia has been said before, in one form or another. Slicing dad up like an alcoholic turkey is just a particularly vile way for a put-upon kid to announce her free will. All Dustin Hoffman had to do in "The Graduate" (1968) was sleep with a family friend. Nowadays, you have to take things to a bloody, show-offy extreme, or nobody notices.

"Crime and Punishment in Suburbia"'s many similarities to "American Beauty" (1999) aren't intentional. It's just that this crabby, blame-it-on-the-manicured-lawns stuff has slowly become a genre, rather than a unique investigation of something that most people have never pondered before. The fact is, the United States is a suburb of reality. Where you're living while you wallow in the lunacy is insignificant when pretty much everyone is busy blowing a gasket.

You can't go hanging all our problems on horny soccer moms and disgruntled Formica salesmen, even if it fits your teen-age pretensions. Someone needs to take a deep breath and grow up.

"Crime and Punishment in Suburbia" boasts profanity, sexual situations, implied rape, and, of course, Cindy Lou Who carving the roast beast. Rated R. 97 minutes. Simon & Garfunkel do not appear on the soundtrack.




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