Disturbia is a good movie worth seeing despite its horrible title. Just remember to cover your eyes, plug your ears and babble gibberish during any TV spots for the movie that you see.
Oh, and don’t read the poster’s tagline.
And at the ticket counter, try to even forget the title and its connotations. Just get a ticket to “the one with that Shia guy in it.”
Heck, just abandon this review until you’ve returned home from the theater.
Disturbia is a hodgepodge homage to Alfred Hitchcock, John Hughes, Cameron Crowe and the potentially bad influence of investigator Joey Greco of trash-TV’s Cheaters. It’s a tightly paced hybrid, and Shia LaBeouf claims John Cusack’s crown as new king of lanky, likeable losers.
The problem is that movies like this must sneak up behind you on tiptoes to really work. And there’s a damning Catch-22. In luring younger audiences whose relationship to technology Disturbia vividly captures, DreamWorks has given up all the film’s charms and ghosts.
Admittedly, this movie had to be a thorn for an advertising department. Still, couldn’t they have created a scheme other than “like CBS’s grisly primetime dramas, only a bit funnier?”
Disturbia is no modern classic ruined by a promotional campaign. The ending is too stupid and shrill for that. It’s just a corker of comedy, romance, suspense and perils of paranoid suspicion from a director (D.J. Caruso) not exactly known for any light, deft touch.
Hellacious car wrecks are more his thing. Unlike slick crash-ups in Taking Lives, the one here clouds the whole tale. Kale (LaBeouf) is a wisecracking teenager on a serene fly-fishing trip turned tragic when a brutal split-second SUV flip kills his shotgun-riding author father (Matt Craven).
Months later, Kale’s sullenness picks a bad time to get physical. He pops his Spanish teacher in the mouth after El Profesor makes an offhand remark about his departed dad. Cut a break by a juvie-court judge, Kale is sentenced to a summer of house arrest. He’s tagged with a tracking device that, should he walk beyond his suburban home’s boundaries, will send the cops a calling.
Kale’s mom (Carrie-Anne Moss) is direct when she says it’s not a vacation, and she eventually takes a humorously forceful stand against his to-do list of Xbox Live fragging and Twinkie sculpting. Cut off from technology, Kale turns his eyes on his nondescript suburban neighborhood — its cheating hubbies, prank-playing kids who put Kale in trouble with the police, murderers.
Well, that last one’s a maybe.
Circumstances of a woman’s disappearance start jiving with the daily doings of Mr. Turner (David Morse). But is he a Gacy in training, or just an aging gigolo who doesn’t know when to say when on hair product?
Morse and LaBeouf have fair amounts of fun tinkering with perceptions. Turner could be a creep who just wants his privacy, or a stone-cold killer plotting his next move. Then again, is Kale merely concocting this mystery as a manifestation of guilt over his dad’s death? It’s a theory suggested solely by LaBeouf’s believably bewildered performance.
Kale teams with his buddy Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) for surveillance to see what’s what with Turner, and also to spy on Ashley (Sarah Roemer), a new girl next door he wants to woo.
Ashley eventually spots them and joins their stakeout squad. Palpable, punchy and very Hughes-ian flirtation ensues, albeit with far more emotional damage than usual teen quirkiness. Kale has post-traumatic stress and Ashley’s family life is on its fractured last leg. Their arm’s-length chemistry ties into the story’s push-pull waves of attachment and detachment through music and technology. (In one scene, the two create their own iPod soundtrack to the neighborhood’s events.)
Teens forging identities for themselves in a world more imperfectly wired than their gadgets is an idea that buoys Disturbia until it starts to drown in a sea of hooey. (Let’s say it involves some sort of catacomb system so murky that you expect the Phantom to show up and belt showtunes.)
If not perfection, at least Disturbia achieves something more than most modern thrillers — the right to describe in that genre and a few others. That the movie and its marketing want to say two different things can’t be held against something that’s such a nifty good time.