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Review: Trashy doc ‘Casting JonBenet’ feeds on viewers’ worst impulses

From left, Kaye Taavialma, Teresa Cocas, Hack Hyland and Deb Hultgren in the documentary "Casting JonBenet."
(Hawk Vaccaro / Netflix)

If a tabloid hive mind could invent its own perversely ideal homicide story, the Christmas 1996 murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey would be it, from the gruesomeness and suspicions surrounding the mother and father, to the botched investigation and exposure to the bizarre world of child beauty pageants. That tragic story from Boulder, Colo., is still unsolved, but in lieu of a freshly reported inquiry, filmmaker Kitty Green offers up the scavenging, Errol-Morris-gone-wrong art project “Casting JonBenet.”

Called a “documentary” but really a glossy piece of gossipy, offensive kitsch, it presents for your snickering fix a range of citizens from Boulder ostensibly auditioning for roles in a dramatization of the murder and its aftermath. What they’re really there to do, though, is look at the camera and speculate on the case’s grisliest, saddest or most unexplained details, dressed as JonBenet’s parents (or a cop or a Santa Claus).

There are artfully directed widescreen recreations, and an inexplicably tone-deaf shot of a boy dressed as JonBenet’s brother bludgeoning a watermelon, because hey, that was a freaky theory too!

Though a thoughtful reflection is occasionally allowed — sometimes humanity finds its way out — this indulgent, stylized slog is straight out of a well-worn aren’t-people-weird-and-awful playbook. Just because you might have once giggled about some strange detail from the Ramsey case, doesn’t mean we need an entire movie devoted to our worst impulses.

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‘Casting JonBenet’

Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Not rated

Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica

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