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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Disturbia

I was so excited to see Disturbia. I waited for months for this movie to come out. I had read about it in magazines during its production and then Dale Chapman, the manager of the Essex Cinemas, saw a screening of it at Show West, the annual theater-owners/distributors convention in Las Vegas. He came back and told me it was going to be a HUGE hit. I was so psyched.

I was always a fan of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, which was the source material for this “modern day updating of the classic tale… blah, blah, blah.” I also really like Shia LeBeouf, the young star of
Disturbia. I don’t know what it is about Shia, but he seems like such a great kid, and that is no doubt the key. He is 21 years old, but he can still play the vulnerable and the ‘on cusp of manhood teenager’ believably. He has a masculine yet delicate face, able to show great expressiveness without looking dorky ~ a lot more difficult than you might think. That’s why we see so few child stars make the successful transition from kid star to adult actor. What passes for emoting on screen as a child is a whole different ballgame than what the grown-ups do, and Shia is doing it seamlessly. From 1998’s Monkey Business to last year’s Bobby, he hasn’t taken a wrong step that I’ve seen in any of his performances. Now, some of his movies and tv shows haven’t been the rare gems you might hope for, but that’s not necessarily the actor’s fault. Me, I like to blame it on director’s wife or girlfriend. If she was (*ahem*) doing her part to make him happy during the shoot then he’d be more likely to produce good work. Why do you think when Spielberg was on such a run with hits like ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Close Encounters of the Third Kind his then-wife Amy Irving looked positively exhausted all the time? I guarantee you a bit of her $100 million divorce settlement helped pay to treat a few bedsores along the way. I’m just saying, but I digress.

Anyway, I was practically bouncing with excitement when
Disturbia made it to the Essex Cinemas this weekend. Naturally I was at the first show, ready to be freaked. Well, I was, and then I wasn’t and then I was again.

Disturbia started off with one of the most shocking and unnerving scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie. Holy crap! It is nerve-rattling because, unlike the cartoon killing in movies like 300 or The Pathfinder, there is a death that is far too realistically possible and so “everyday” that seeing it close-up is like seeing the real thing and being helpless to do anything about it. This is one of those “it could happen to you” moments you never see and it is done way too well.

From here, the movie takes a breather and we skip ahead a year and see Shia as Kale Brecht, now sullen, withdrawn, and raging inside over what happened in the accident. A chance comment by his Spanish teacher sets the young man off and he cold-cocks his teacher, which results in Kale taking a journey through the court system in short order and straight into a three-month sentence of house arrest. Unlike Jimmy Stewart from the original, Kale is a cutting edge bad boy. It’s not a broken leg that keeps him home and turns him into a voyeur. Kale starts spying on his neighbors because he is bored and has nowhere he can go.

Heck, I’d spy on the neighbors too even if I didn’t have an ankle bracelet on keeping me at home. I used to live in a high-rise, on the 23rd floor of a building that faced a scattering of six other high rise apartment buildings within a few blocks range of mine. Please. I saw more entertainment through my binoculars than I ever did on Skin-emax, if you know what I mean, and I’m sure that you do. For some reason, people in high buildings, even with other skyscrapers nearby, think they are safe from being seen, and so few ever pull their curtains at night, if they have curtains in the windows at all. Apparently the same is true in the suburbs, at least according to Disturbia.

Kale, for some reason tragically named after a type of cabbage, is soon engulfed in a world of ennui and if not for his pubescent interest in new neighbor Ashley (Sarah Roemer; The Grudge 2) he would probably go mishugana. His dopey friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo; Dry Clean Only) is fairly useless except for comic relief and ~ one suspects ~ later use as either bait or sacrifice or both, so this budding romance is definitely going to be a big part of the picture.

Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to love Disturbia, this was not where I wanted the movie to go. Teen love was just not going to make this thriller thrilling. It’s been hyped as a terror ride from start to finish and focusing now on puppy love brings Disturbia to a grinding halt. And, boy was I now getting disturbed with Disturbia. I don’t care that Ashley’s Dad yells at her or that her mother calls her on her cell phone to check in regularly. I don’t need to spend valuable terror time watching Kale and Ashley share mooning glances from across their yards or see Ashley flirtingly *almost* strip in front of her bedroom window before closing the blinds. Yawn. This is the stuff of Hilary Duff movies.

Eventually, the not-so-dynamic duo does latch onto the idea that one of their other neighbors is a local serial killer, and so they try to concoct a scheme to prove it. So from this point things are supposed to get crazy scary, and they do get jumping with creepy David Morse (16 Blocks) as Mr.
Turner, the not-so-nice neighbor shows his true colors (blood red and more blood red) when the teens get under his skin with all their snooping. Disturbia finally does, indeed, become quite disturbing, though it is much tamer than I expected. There wasn’t anything new in the usual “serial killer chases after the victim who will eventually conquer him bit” but they are, as always, exciting, and it was different to see it done with someone you could really care about for once. Usually these moments are done with bimbettes and unknowns in movies that are as forgettable as the people in them. In this case, with some really good actors in the roles, the material ends up seeming better than it is, and what could have been ho hum slasher junk becomes actual excitement. That’s the case here, and, thanks to LeBeouf, Roemer, Carrie Anne-Moss (The Matrix trilogy) as Kale’s mom Julie and, of course, to David Morse at his creepiest, Disturbia redeems itself in the last act and does an excellent job in making your skin crawl.

By the time it was over I wasn’t sure what to think. The acting was solid and the beginning was flat-out freak-out stuff like I’ve never seen before on film. The last half hour or so was also non-stop tension and well-ratcheted up stress leading to the inevitable climax. It’s just that detour in the middle that still bothered me. Why, I want to ask director D.J. Caruso (Two for the Money), did we have to go to the teen party halfway through the movie? I’m sorry, but if I want to watch a bunch of mid-20-somethings pretending to be 16 dance for half-an-hour for no particular reason that only marginally advances the plot then I’ll just watch reruns of Beverly Hills 90210. You know what I mean?

Overall, though, I’d recommend
Disturbia to anyone who wants to enjoy a bit of voyeuristic fun. It’s an almost entirely gore-free thriller that keeps you guessing for quite a while whether the boy with the binoculars is imagining what he thinks he’s seeing or whether the person he accuses is really the victim of this crazy kid’s unwarranted harassment. It’s a persuasive enough story that even though you are absolutely sure you know the answer, you just may be questioning whether you are losing your mind along with Kale right up until the last twenty minutes or so.

Disturbia is packing them in at the Essex Cinemas this week and, apparently, everywhere else in the country as I see that it is already the number one movie nationally. There’s a good reason for that, and you ought to check it out.

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