An overweight, mildly retarded bully with a video camera is not someone you want to screw around with. Sam (Rory Culkin) finds out early on in Mean Creek that getting on this jerk-off’s bad side will definitely ruin your day. George (Josh Peck) will be terribly familiar to anyone who has gone through the “golden years” of junior high and had to endure the cruel reign of these cretins. You will sympathize with Sam as he swallows his pride on the schoolyard, forced to retreat in the face of this 200-pound, profanity-spewing monster. You will plot his comeuppance, and fantasize about his bloody demise, as you did when variations of George singled you out for no other purpose than to feed an impoverished and sociopathic ego. Director and writer Jacob Aaron Estes perfectly nails the dance we had to perform around these schoolyard Nazis, imbuing George with equal parts childlike innocence and adult-like rage. It’s unfortunate he didn’t imbue the supporting cast with an equal measure of realism. Sam’s friends and older brother vacillate too wildly between clueless immaturity and unbelievable precociousness. Sam’s love interest, Millie (Carly Schroeder), illustrates the latter with her beyond-her-years inquisition into Sam’s soul. Sorry, besides maybe a few kids who make it to the teen tournament on “Jeopardy,” kids don’t talk like this blond cutie. This keeps Mean Creek from fully impacting, not allowing you to be swept up in the real horrors that arise later in the picture.
From a violent attack in the schoolyard to a none-too-innocent invitation to George to accompany Sam and his friends on an excursion to a beautiful Oregon river, Mean Creek allows you plenty of time to see how an impulsive, yet entirely believable revenge plot runs dangerously out of hand. Sam, egged on by his older brother Rocky (Trevor Morgan) and Rocky’s friend Marty (Scott Mechlowicz), goes along when the plot to scare George is as fresh as the bruises inflicted by the chubby creep. However, as everyone sets out for the small boat that will take them deep into the Oregon wilderness, the wiser Millie softens Sam’s hunger for vengeance. This change-of-heart is collectively accepted, and the plan to do George harm is scrapped. Or is it?
Mean Creek, despite its cast of teenage characters speaking like 30-year-old urbanites, says much about the nihilism and the blunt, dangerous ignorance prevalent in Colombine-era teenagers. It may not be an original premise — 1986’s River’s Edge explored it first and best — but it’s an important and scary one that is meditated on with great effect in this offering.
Showing at the Maple Art Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Road, Bloomfield Hills. Call 248-263-2111 for more info.
Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.