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DISTURBIA (***)

Movie Review by: Jim "Good Old JR" Rutkowski
Directed by: D.J.Caruso
Written by: Carl Ellsworth, Christopher Landon
Starring:
Shia LaBeouf, Carrie-Anne Moss, David Morse
Running time: 104 minutes Released: 04/13/07
Rated PG-13 for sequences of terror and violence, and some sensuality.
"Disturbia filters the classic Rear Window plotline through a John Hughes' suburban sensibility, and the resulting thriller works far more often than it doesn't."
Disturbia is a savagely efficient eyewitness-to-murder thriller, a Rear Window for the YouTube generation.

It's an occasionally comic high school romance wrapped in grief and violence. Those shifts in tone may give you whiplash, but the third act's by-the-book payoff does what it's designed to do pay off.

This film from the writer of Red Eye and the director of Two for the Money takes Alfred Hitchcock's great Rear Window conceit, that we're all voyeurs when we go to the movies, and ratchets it up for a more plugged-in age. What is privacy to kids who reveal their deepest secrets, or dishonest versions of them, to MySpace, kids growing up in a world of security cameras and Internet security breaches?

A father-son fishing trip ends in tragedy, and Kale (Shia LaBeouf) has to carry around grief and guilt for the rest of his life, or at least for the rest of high school. Cut to a year later, and he manages to punch a teacher out in the last days of a semester. He earns house arrest an electronic ankle bracelet for the summer.

Kale goes through a sugar-buzz/video game/isolation-induced stir craziness. Then, hot hot Ashley (Sarah Roemer of The Grudge 2) moves in next door, and Kale watches her. A lot. Is she teasing him? She seems to be watching him, too.

Wouldn't you know it, that's when a missing person makes the news. Kale sees coincidences from the case that connect to a mysterious neighbor. He lets himself be distracted from Job One pursuing Ashley. Kale, his pal Ronnie (Aaron Yoo, a scene-stealer) and eventually Ashley work themselves into a tizzy over the guy who may be a serial killer, living right next door. Smart casting move: David Morse is the mysterious Turner. He can be spooky and dangerous, or sad and misunderstood. A blunder: The script doesn't let him play those shades. We believe the kids, that he's one bad hombre, from the get-go.

The movie plays around with the electronic bracelet idea, foreshadowing how Kale might make an asset out of his "spatially limited" existence. Routine ticking clock scenes put the kids in jeopardy. Cell phones and all manner of surveillance and home video gear give Disturbia a Blair Witch Project feel. Experiencing violence or a taste of it through a camcorder boosts the fear factor.

LaBeouf, of The Greatest Game Ever Played and Holes, captures the caffeine-jag awkwardness of his character's age and makes for a believably paranoid gear head. His reasons for questioning Turner betray a teenager's understanding of privacy. "Why does he want his privacy? What's he hiding?"

Where the movie stumbles is in its lack of a poker face. We know director D.J.Caruso's hand before he plays it too many "tells," too many obvious bits of foreshadowing. But the chills are genuine. And there's something very rewarding about sitting through a new version of a movie any film buff knows by heart. The years may change the technology of how we spy on our neighbors, but not our desire to do it.

It's not perfect, but it is something that most movies in the first quarter of this below-average year haven't been - consistently fun. Disturbia filters the classic Rear Window plotline through a John Hughes' suburban sensibility, and the resulting thriller works far more often than it doesn't. Director D. J. Caruso (The Salton Sea) and executive producer Steven Spielberg have found a way to make most of the familiar chords played by Disturbia feel fresh and engaging again.

Disturbia is a good example of a genre entry that gets the mix of character and action just right. It could have been a little leaner (it feels a bit longer than its 104 minute running time), and there are a few unanswered questions and plot holes, but those are minor complaints. With a very strong young cast, including the increasingly good LaBeouf and the stunning newcomer Roemer, alongside such talented veterans as Moss and Morse, Disturbia proves that you can always find ways to spin old ideas and make them new again. With so many thrillers that practically refuse to actually be thrilling, living and dying on their cheap last-minute plot twists, Disturbia stands above most of its genre neighbors by realizing that it's the minutes that come before the last-minute twist that really count.
 

DISTURBIA 2007 DreamWorks SKG.
All Rights Reserved

Review 2007 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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