CAST: Kieran Culkin, Susan Sarandon, Ryan Phillippe, Claire Danes, Jeff Goldblum, Amanda Peet, Jared Harris


Susan Sarandon, noisily sawing wood in her swank bedroom, is about to snore her last snore. That's because Kieran Culkin and Ryan Phillippe, her two warped sons, are coolly preparing to pull a plastic bag over her head and snuff out what's left of her wretched life. I'm not spoiling what passes for a story here, since this scene--which is neither shocking nor funny, just crude--comes at the very beginning of writer-director Burr Steer's numbingly eccentric portrait of a wealthy, loveless family. Except for a few minutes at the end, the rest of the film is one long flashback with very little flash.

Why Sarandon (who would be well advised to look around for another agent) is such a shallow, castrating bitch we never know. But it's easy to understand why her simple husband, played by a trapped-looking Bill Pullman, drinks and smokes himself silly and winds up in the booby hatch. Mommie dearest dotes on spookily conservative son Phillippe, never seeming to notice that he finds her repulsive. On the other hand, the egomaniacal tyrant can barely tolerate being in the same room with 19-year-old Culkin, an allegedly brilliant and sensitive misfit whose childhood reading surely included "Catcher in the Rye." After disgracing himself at a New Jersey military academy, he receives the harshest punishment yet from old mum--the threat of a transfer to a school in the Midwest! That does it--the kid takes off for Manhattan, with his clueless mother's credit card tucked into his wallet.

So what does the little lad find in the Big Apple? He finds his creepy, lecherous godfather (Jeff Goldblum), the godfather's horny, drug-addicted mistress (Amanda Peet), her dope-dealing buddy (Jared Harris), and a dreary Bennington bedmate who, as it turns out, has the hots for big bro Phillippe. But this is far more than you need to know about a movie that, unless you're a masochist, you will never see. It's "The Royal Tenenbaums" without humor, heart, style or the thinnest shred of credibility.