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Criminal Lovers

Borrowing its unwieldy title if little else from Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment in Suburbia eschews the novel's labyrinthine intersections of reason and evil for a straightforward avenging-angel plot, yet it does manage an intriguing gloss on the unique logic of vengeance. Raskolnikov becomes Roseanne Skolnik (Monica Keena), a well-off high-schooler with an adoring lunkhead football boyfriend, Jimmy (James DeBello). After her bitter mom (Ellen Barkin) finally breaks off her miserable marriage, Roseanne's alcoholic, grotesquely self-pitying stepfather (Michael Ironside) transforms into a full-bore monster, raping Roseanne and terrorizing his estranged wife and her new beau (Jeffrey Wright) until the girl takes drastic action. Much of the ongoing horror is viewed through Roseanne's eyes, but her perspective is tempered by co-narrator Vincent (Vincent Kartheiser), a pallid Goth wraith whose obsession with Roseanne is mostly healthy and potentially redemptive.

The movie often succumbs to the craven hysteria perhaps inherent in its hoary premise—Ironside's heavy-hoofed expositional rants amount to "Fee, fi, fo, fum"—and tends to smother itself with music-video tics. But director Rob Schmidt and screenwriter Larry Gross cast sharp, generous eyes on the ways teenagers speak and interact—conveying, for instance, Roseanne and Jimmy's sex-driven rapport with neither judgment nor tongue-lolling titillation. Schmidt's 2001-like spatial sense is impeccably alienated, and the director guides Keena to a poignant performance that's like the flip side of Sheryl Lee's astounding immolation in the otherwise pointless Twin Peaks movie. A dead ringer for Kate Winslet with a hint of Corin Tucker from Sleater-Kinney, Keena quietly signals the implications of what an S-K lyric calls being "born to accommodate"—watch how she attempts affectionate banter with her simmering stepdad as they plow through a greasy take-out dinner, or how she soothes a drunken, jabbering Jimmy as she would a petulant child. Roseanne's lamentably expert coping mechanisms explain why she never seems capable of any of the crime and punishment going down in this Californian suburbia, but the inconsistency doesn't derail the film. Her shy, trauma-induced movements away from her dick-swingin' goofball Jimmy and toward the sweet, fucked-up, vaguely androgynous outsider Vincent feel blisteringly true; the film's instantly dated stylizations begin to appear as a welcome distancing device from the pain of being young, trapped, and hatefully vulnerable.


Killing me softly: Keena and Kartheiser in Crime and Punishment in Suburbia
photo: Merie W. Wallace
Killing me softly: Keena and Kartheiser in Crime and Punishment in Suburbia

Details

Crime and Punishment in Suburbia
Directed by Rob Schmidt
Written by Larry Gross
A United Artists release
Opens September 15

Turn it Up
Written and directed by Robert Adetuyi
A New Line release

On the Run
Directed by Bruno de Almeida
Written by Joseph Minion
A Phaedra release
Opens September 15

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Some form of distancing device would come in handy for the protagonists of Turn It Up and On the Run, both of whom suffer by the Mean Streets-Rounders model of guilty duty to a parasitic no-goodnik best buddy from childhood. On the Run is a bad one-night stand endured with a jailbroke cad and his put-upon travel-agent pal that hinges somewhat on the characters' impression that Frank Sinatra is still among us—this may or may not be a screenwriting oversight, but if it's a joke, it has no punch line. The marginally more watchable Turn It Up features two live pop stars: Ja Rule in the worm role and the Fugees' Pras as a silken-voiced, somewhat passive aspiring hip-hop star juggling pregnant girlfriend, prodigal dad, and nefarious business associates. The staging and performances are awkward, the frequent shoot-outs a snore, and there's no reprise of "Ghetto Supastar."

 
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