Crime and Punishment in Suburbia (2000) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I guess it was just a matter of time until American Beauty had its own school, like the Dutch masters. Actually, the Robbins report on this one is "American Beauty" meets "The Doom Generation". It isn't really influenced by "Beauty", because it was filmed in the summer of 1999, and I assume the filmmakers had never seen the Mendes picture.

As for "Crime and Punishment", the titular reference to Dostoevsky's novel indicates a tight connection, but none exists. Crime and Punishment provides only a sketchy outline for the action.

Monica comes from a dysfunctional suburban family. Her father is a drunken loser who stays home feeling sorry for himself and her mother is a drunken loser who goes out to feel sorry for herself. They have angry and solemn dinner conversations which can erupt into screaming fits.


none, although there was quite a bit of smutty cleavage
Monica is dating a popular football player, but she has been noticing that a shy neighbor is obsessed with her and keeps taking pictures of her. She is oddly attracted to him. He is Doestoevsky's Sonya, by way of American Beauty's Wes Bentley.

Things go very wrong with Monica's parents, and they split up, leaving Monica alone with dad. Dad gets too drunk and commits an act of incestuous rape.

In a confused flurry of violence, Monica and her jock boyfriend come to the house and kill dad grotesquely (It involves an electric carving knife like the ones used at Thanksgiving!), without realizing that dad had just finished a major fight with mom and mom's boyfriend.

The cops arrest mom for the murder and she is convicted.

But mom's boyfriend knows they didn't do it, so he snoops around and figures it out. He confronts Monica and the jock, and ends up nearly killing the kid.

Overwhelmed with guilt, and seeing the situation careening out of control, Monica finally confesses to the crime and mom is released. Unfortunately, Mom can't go back to her boyfriend, since he has to go to prison for the assault on the jock. So it goes.

Monica languishes in prison, with nobody to visit her but the strange camera-obsessed neighbor. We find out that it is from prison that she has been narrating the story in flashback.

DVD info from Amazon.

There is a widescreen and a standard version, and a full-length director's commentary.

The transfer is quite good.

I don't recommend this movie at all. It is a long way from a finished product with a consistent tone, and it has all the pretension, exaggeration, and skewed sensibility of American Beauty with none of the humor and gentility and underlying humanity to balance it off.

On the other hand, the director shows a lot of promise. Some of the scenes have a real visual poetry to them, and there are some interesting wrinkles in the lighting techniques. Maybe he is capable of making a top movie.

But this ain't it. This is an unsubtle cartoon.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two stars. Ebert bucked the trend with 3/4, but he was one of the very few who liked it. I see his points, and agree with most of them, but I don't think these values redeem a trite and lifeless film. To balance off Ebert, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave it an "F", his lowest rating.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. Only 13% positive overall, and a similar 18% from the top critics.

  • It was nominated for the grand prize at Sundance.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.0, based on a very small number of votes.
  • With their dollars ... a disaster. $26,000 on five screens.
My guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C, but one that shows a lot of potential and talent from the young director.

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