Susan Granger’s review of “Suburbicon” (Paramount Pictures)
One of the great disappointments of the Fall season is this collaboration between George Clooney and the Coen brothers, revolving around skullduggery in the suburbs in the summer of 1959.
Like Levitttown, Suburbia is a peaceful, prefab, homogenized community with affordable homes and friendly neighbors. Until an African-American couple, the Mayers (Karimah Westbrook, Leith M. Burke), move in with their young son Andy (Tony Espinosa).
Their presence arouses so much ire that a racist petition is circulated and a riot erupts. The police are summoned, but no one does anything about the bigotry and torment that they’re forced to endure.
Meanwhile, across the backyard, there’s a home invasion. Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon), his paraplegic wife Rose (Julianne Moore), their son Nicky (Noah Jupe) and Rose’s twin sister Margaret (Julianne Moore) are tied up and chloroformed by thugs (Alex Hassell, Corey Allen Kotler) – and Rose dies.
But when Gardner and Margaret refuse to identify the crooks in a police lineup, plucky Nicky begins to suspect that his dour father and saucy aunt are involved in his mother’s death. That’s confirmed when he catches them having sex in the basement.
Nicky’s misgivings are shared by Bud Cooper (Oscar Isaacs), a savvy insurance claims investigator who quickly realizes that the accident that confined Rose to a wheelchair and now her death don’t seem like coincidences, particularly since dim-witted Gardner’s Mob debts have been mounting.
Foolishly re-written by director Clooney and his producing partner Grant Heslov (“The Monuments Men”) from a 1986 screenplay by Ethan and Joel Coen, it’s not funny enough to be a satirical black comedy nor cohesive enough to qualify as a subversive crime caper.
Significantly, there’s no link between the Lodges’ and the Mayers’ storylines except that their amiable sons play baseball together. Indeed, “Suburbicon” fails on almost every level except stylish production design; James D. Bissell’s work is a superb recreation of the cheery, cloistered, superficially idyllic Eisenhower era.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Suburbicon” is a sour, substandard 4, a murky melodrama.