The Chumscrubber (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

When you line up Glenn Close and Ralph Fiennes for your leads, you convey that you plan to offer serious emotions and important themes, and there is some of that in The Chumscrubber, but it is delivered with a dark comic "indie" eccentricity. Actually, it's not really a dark comedy, but a dark dramedy with a bit of magical realism, as if American Beauty had been spiced with a heavy dash of Donnie Darko and just a soupcon of Like Water for Chocolate. In other words, this is quite an odd movie.

A teen (Dean) discovers that his best friend has hanged himself, but he doesn't bother telling any of the parents gathered for a party at the best friend's house. Why not? Each of the suburban adults is obsessively following some narrow solipsistic path to happiness: self-help books, New Age mysticism, the perfect wedding, drugs, vitamins, video games, whatever. Dean felt that they just wouldn't want to hear about a dead kid at their party. Dean's dad is a pop psychologist who finds his son's behavior odd, but also sees in it some possible inspiration for his next book. Dean has worse problems than his dad. The dead best friend was the school drug dealer, and since he's dead, the local thuggies want the stash, and Dean has to get it for them since Dean can walk in and out of the dead guy's house without attracting any suspicion. Dean refuses to co-operate, so the thugs devise a plan to force Dean to retrieve the drug motherlode. They kidnap Dean's brother - except they get the wrong kid. And the kidnapped kid's real mother is too busy planning her home wedding to notice that her son is missing. Meanwhile, the dead guy's mother lives next door to the bride-to-be, and is planning a memorial for him in her own house, in direct conflict with her neighbor's wedding. Not only does this force their neighbors to choose which event to attend (and which wardrobe to wear), but it also creates a suburban parking crisis.

The real (and surreal) action is played out over a running theme - a fictional character called The Chumscrubber. In the movie's alternate universe, the Chumscrubber seems to be the most famous fictional character - he's everywhere - in books, posters, comics, video games, movies, etc. He's an icon with the ubiquitous status of Vito Corleone or Rocky, but he's one odd duck. He lives in a post-apocalyptic landscape and his head is not attached to his shoulders, so his body carries it. Presumably the Chumscrubber cartoons have some metaphorical connection to the live action, but frankly I'm not too sure what the hell it is. Perhaps suburbia is a barren apocalyptic landscape and none of us really have our heads attached.

Or not.

This film had some good word-of-mouth coming off the festival circuit, and still has its ardent defenders. Its three most common scores at IMDb are 10, 8, and 9, in that order, indicating that it has found a cult audience. One or two critics hailed it as a masterpiece. The Christian Science Monitor said, "Acutely intelligent, and strikingly tough-minded, this pitch-dark dramatic comedy recalls David Lynch and "Donnie Darko" while remaining fresh and original to its core. A stunning directorial debut."

It turned out, however, to be one of those films made for festival audiences, with no mass-market appeal to propagate and sustain it. Critics generally found it insufferably smug and self-conscious (33% positive reviews), and one summed it up as, "A movie that wants to be daring but ends up feeling prefabricated." Distributors had no confidence in it, and it maxed out at 28 theaters. Audiences didn't care for it much either. It even did poorly in those 28 theaters, pulling in about $1000 per screen on opening weekend. (That's about ten people per screening.)

I guess I'm one of the few that enjoyed it. It's one of the few cases you will find where I am part of the cult for a cult movie. I like it when these young filmmakers just go for it and grasp for the stars. Donny Darko ... Magnolia ... Chumscrubber ... let it all hang out: giant rabbits, frog rain, mystical dolphins ... whatever! Yes, it can seem like nonsensical gibberish at times, but if it doesn't always make sense, and if it doesn't always get the expected reaction from the audience, at least it tries to scale the ladder to heaven instead of walking safely under it. For my money, this film has some misses, but it has more hits.



  • Widescreen anamorphic transfer (16x9 enhanced, but the film is 2.40:1)
  • 14 minutes of deleted and extended scenes
  • 12 minute documentary ("making of")
  • full-length filmmaker commentary (director and screenwriter)



None. Carrie-Anne Moss really filled out her bikini, however.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own 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. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). 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. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C, a goofy, eccentric film of indie sensibility, despite the big headline "serious acting" stars Close and Fiennes. (Fiennes was surprisingly laid-back and likeable. )

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