Strangely, the brutal and bitter "Romper Stomper," about skinheads in Melbourne, Australia, is both unsentimental and extremely romanticized.

This look at a subhuman alternate lifestyle, with wayward young people getting their kicks through destructive - and self-destructive - behavior begins with an ugly attack on Vietnamese kids in a subway tunnel, and goes downhill from there.The film follows the skinheads, detailing their repugnant lifestyle and anti-everything credo, and is presented primarily from the viewpoint of the group's newest member, Gabe (Jacqueline Mc-Ken-zie), a disturbed young woman from a wealthy but horribly dysfunctional family.

The main plot in the film's first half has to do with the gang declaring war on the local Vietnamese community, then looking for an escape route out of town when the Vietnamese youth rise up for revenge, destroying the skinheads' living quarters in the process.

But the skinheads are so easily distracted by their own violently hedonistic desires that it's obvious they aren't going to get too far before they self-destruct.

Their leader, Hando (Russell Crowe), is really the only intelligent member of the gang, carrying himself with a certain regal demeanor, preening as he struts his shaved head and tattooed body, reading Hitler's "Mein Kampf" aloud and suggesting he is on a mission to purify the human race. His followers, however, are simply a bungling bunch of boozy losers, taking far too many chances and openly defying far too many laws to remain at large very long.

Perhaps writer-director Geoffrey Wright meant to show this motley crew as doomed from the start, but this obvious dead-end attitude also makes the group's repulsive antics all the more predictable.

Where it all begins to fall apart, however, is in the film's second half, as the story turns into a predictable and silly love story, with Hando's second in command (Daniel Pollack) falling for Gabe, who ultimately betrays them all.

Wright's non-judgmental approach is no doubt meant to allow the audience to decide independently that the actions and ideas expressed by these characters are repulsive. But while he wallows cinematically in the disgusting details of their actions, he also tends to glorify them. In the end, that is what is most repulsive about "Romper Stomper."

The film is rated NC-17 for excessive and disturbing violence, as well as graphic sex. There is also nudity, profanity, vulgarity and drug abuse.