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Review

'Affluenza' tries for 'Great Gatsby,' comes up shortchanged

Review: "Affluenza" tries for "Gatsby"-like excess and drama, comes up a dollar short

It might be true that the very rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, "are different from you and me," but movies about their profligate kids tend toward dime-a-dozen sameness.

"Affluenza," director Kevin Asch's look at excess in Great Neck, N.Y., abounds in the usual drugs, booze, sex and angst. As witnessed and experienced by a middle-class protagonist — the requisite sensitive artist — the moneyed setting is convincing. But "The Great Gatsby" Lite screenplay by Antonio Macia hasn't the sharpness of satire or the momentousness of an American tragedy, veering instead toward middling melodrama.

Fisher, a weed-dealing aspiring photographer played by Ben Rosenfield, is the bland observer as the story unfolds in the weeks before the economic meltdown of 2008. He's summering on Long Island with his materialistic aunt, uncle and younger cousin Kate (Nicola Peltz), and he falls under the influence of poor little nouveau riche boy Dylan (Gregg Sulkin), a thrower of lavish parties and a whiny stand-in for Jay Gatsby.

Dylan pines for Kate with awkward desperation — and a disturbing sense of entitlement — and seeks Fisher's help in winning her affection. In turn he promises that his stepfather can smooth the way for Fisher's hoped-for transfer to a Manhattan art school. None of this is affecting, although Asch taps into something true in the acrimony between Kate's parents, well played by Samantha Mathis and Steve Guttenberg.

The movie opens with the suggestion that it will address the generational divide, but it has nothing of substance to say. Lending superficial significance, the stock market debacle and background chatter about the Obama-McCain faceoff are finally just soap-opera fodder.

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'Affluenza'

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

Playing: At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills. Also on VOD.

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