Mean Creek
dir. Jacob Aaron Estes
Opens Fri Aug 27.

Don't be fooled by the intriguing trailer. Like Open Water, Mean Creek is a strong premise gone horribly awry. Five small-town Oregon teenagers banding together to punish a school bully sounds like a great launch pad for a contemporary update of River's Edge, the ultimate treatment of teen amorality. Unfortunately, in the hands of young director Jacob Aaron Estes (of course he would have three names), it's a moralistic drag whose 87 minutes feel like a long, miserable weekend. And, as in Open Water, you just wish someone would hurry up and kill the whiny, cloying central figure--in this case, an overweight, mentally challenged rich kid named George. Though the story is meant to be about George's victims, and the crisis of conscience they suffer after exacting a little frontier justice, only the bully himself is allowed any shred of complexity.

The problem is, the script is more concerned with playing switcheroo than with exploring the heart of what makes kids mean and violent. George is a venal bastard one minute and sweet and needy the next. But his transformations aren't lifelike, they're just convenient excuses to con the audience into sympathizing with him. Everyone else, meanwhile, is a page out of the teen film stereotype handbook: troubled rebel, best friend, effeminate sidekick, little brother, et al. And their dialogue ("twerpface") has the stench of old about it, like the script was written to satisfy some middle-aged financier's idea about kids today. Worst of all, the dramatic revenge the whole film builds up to is just a dumb accident, and the aftermath just makes every character look dumber than they already obviously are. On the plus side, there's about 45 seconds of a Death Cab for Cutie song about 20 minutes in. That part seems real, anyway.