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'Igby Goes Down,' but Not Far Enough

First-timer Burr Steers means for his title character to be seen as a great, tortured soul, but he's just an irritating brat.


God must love sullen, disaffected, whiny teenagers, he made so many of them. Or if not God, first-time writer-directors--who absolutely insist their films aren't autobiographical--certainly love tales of sensitive types disguised as impossible brats. Oh, the pain of being young and misunderstood. It's almost too much to bear.

"Igby Goes Down" will, regrettably, not be the last of these ventures, but future entrants in this already overcrowded field will have their work cut out for them if they want to match the egregious special pleading for a deeply tiresome character that is this film's raison d'etre.

Written and directed by Burr Steers, "Igby" tries to compensate for having an unoriginal thesis (News flash! Adults are craven fools and clueless idiots) by presenting a character dripping with self-conscious attitude, someone we're supposed to cleave to and sympathize with because he's discovered that (News flash, No. 2!) there's hypocrisy out there in the real world.

Igby Slocumb (Kieran Culkin) is introduced doing one of the few things he's good at: getting kicked out of an elite East Coast private school. Not that he cares. Not our Igby. He's too much the self-absorbed, self-pitying sad little rich boy to care overly much about anything.

Not that Igby is a silent sufferer. Quite the opposite. No situation in his young life, no matter how dire, leaves him without a glib, smarty-pants rejoinder. In whatever time he's got left over from being an Oscar Wilde wannabe, Igby steals money and drugs, lies almost pathologically and looks hurt whenever anyone has the temerity to question his unswervingly juvenile behavior.

The notion behind "Igby Goes Down" is that our young hero is being dragged down by the toxic individuals, cliches every one, in his immediate vicinity. There's his hapless father, Jason (Bill Pullman), a walking nervous breakdown, and his society mother, Mimi (Susan Sarandon), a pill-popping matron who's lost without "my peppies." His godfather, D.H. (Jeff Goldblum), is a rapacious capitalist, and his own brother, Oliver (Ryan Phillippe), has found a way to be both snotty and successful.

Though we're supposed to view Igby as a great and tortured soul starved for proper nourishment and understanding, the difficulty is that he comes off as such an insufferable infant that by comparison even the callow lot he's surrounded with start to look like better bets to spend time with.

Igby is, in fact, so irritating that people periodically feel impelled to lash out and hit him out of sheer frustration at the smugness of his baby rebellion.

Audiences will likely be tempted to throw a few punches themselves because, as brother Oliver puts it, "I think if God had to hang out with you for an extended period of time," the deity, too, would whale the tar out of Igby.

Bored, finally, with being thrown out of schools, Igby decides to camp out in Manhattan, where, because it's his movie and not ours, the most attractive women around can't keep their hands off him.

These include Rachel (Amanda Peet), a sometime dancer and D.H.'s mistress, and Sookie Sapperstein (Claire Danes), an unfocused young woman of uncertain aims. But the more attention they pay to Igby, the more he drips sarcastic drivel. Perhaps there's a pattern here.

Writer-director Steers has chosen to overload "Igby" with phony archness and forced black humor, making it not the place to look for satisfying acting. Young Culkin shows the talent he revealed in the Sharon Stone-starring "The Mighty," and, if nothing else, his ability to convince at least himself that this fatuous smart aleck is someone worth caring about is some kind of feat.

Igby's idea of the good life is killing time, and there are few worse ways to do it than with the film that bears his name.

MPAA rating: R for sexuality, language and drug content. Times guidelines: The sex, language and drug use are brief but fairly explicit.

'Igby Goes Down'

Kieran Culkin...Igby

Claire Danes...Sookie

Jeff Goldblum...D.H.

Jared Harris...Russel

Amanda Peet...Rachel

Ryan Phillippe...Oliver

Bill Pullman...Jason

Susan Sarandon...Mimi

United Artists and Atlantic Streamline present, in association with Crossroads Films, a Marco Weber/Lisa Tornell production, released by United Artists. Director Burr Steers. Producers Marco Weber, Lisa Tornell. Executive producers Fran Lucci, David Rubin, Lee Solomon, Helen Beadleston. Screenplay Burr Steers. Cinematographer Wedigo Von Schultzendorff. Editor William Anderson. Costumes Sarah Edwards. Music Uwe Fahrenkrog-Petersen. Production design Kevin Thompson. Art director Roswell Hamrick. Set decorator Jennifer Alex. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

In limited release.

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