By Owen Gleiberman
September 13, 2000 at 04:00 AM EDT

Crime + Punishment in Suburbia was shot in the summer of 1999, so it would be unfair to describe the movie as a rip-off of ”American Beauty.” You could, however, call it a somber, draggy, deadweight, lugubrious, absurdly self serious version of ”American Beauty” (and that was a ”wounded heart of suburbia” tragedy that took itself too seriously to begin with).

Here, once again, is the button-nosed strawberry blond princess (Monica Keena) whose Lolita allure prevents everyone from seeing who she is inside; the ”weird,” sensitive loner (Vincent Kartheiser) who views the world through the shield of his artistic lens (instead of a video voyeur, he’s a ’60s style shutterbug, which is even more obnoxious); the miserable perky wife (Ellen Barkin) who attempts to recharge her life with an affair; and the miserable husband (Michael Ironside) whose demons power the story — though in this case he’s an evil drunken rapist bastard who has no real drive apart from his desire to destroy the people around him.

”Crime + Punishment in Suburbia” opens with a quote from Dostoyevsky and just gets ”darker” from there. The picture is so garish in its violence (a murder by carving knife is pure slasher trash), so laden with angsty metaphoric gloom, that its mood would feel grimly overcooked even if it were applied to one of the infamous high school rampages of recent years. At one point, there’s a nighttime pep rally, complete with torches and raised arms, that’s staged to look like a KKK cross burning merged with ”Triumph of the Will.” The didactic overstatement is idiotic, but for a moment, at least, there’s something to look at. The rest of the time, the movie drowns in its doldrums.

  • Movie
  • R
  • 98 minutes
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