Itís generally futile to remake a classic movie. If it was perfect the first time, why try to do it again? There are ways around this, though. One is to steal only the general idea, change a few key ingredients, and then slap a different title on it. This is the approach taken by Disturbia, which looks and sounds a lot like Alfred Hitchcockís classic Rear Window - but not exactly like it. Because itís not a direct remake, you can enjoy the film without getting indignant about someone trying to improve upon Hitchcock.
Shia LaBeouf (Holes) plays Kale, a 17 year-old kid whose father dies in a car accident (one of the most jarring ever put on film, in my opinion). The grief he feels affects his behavior in all the wrong ways. After punching his Spanish teacher in the face, Kale is brought before the court and placed on house arrest. He must wear an ankle bracelet that makes sure he doesnít go more than a hundred yards beyond a small transmitter box in the kitchen. At first, the situation doesnít seem so bad; then his mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) takes away his X-Box 360, his television, and his internet access. Then he starts to go a little stir crazy.
To stave off boredom, Kale starts spying on his neighbors with a pair of binoculars and a video camera. He has particular interest in the new neighbor girl, Ashley (Sarah Roemer), who likes to lounge around the pool in a bikini. She catches on to what heís doing and, amazingly, joins in surveying the others on the block. They turn their attention to another neighbor, Mr. Turner (David Morse), who appears to violently attack his date as they watch. Kale and Ashley become convinced that Turner is the serial killer on the news whoís been kidnapping and murdering young women. They decide to find out if heís really stashing dead bodies in his garage. But since Kale canít go beyond the front yard, they have to find clever ways of accomplishing this.
Iím not going to lie: Disturbia is not a movie youíre going to remember a few years from now. Itís mostly disposable entertainment. That said, Iíve got to admit that the film is pretty entertaining as you watch it. One of the things I liked most about it is that the screenplay (by Christopher Landon and Carl Ellsworth) doesnít leave a lot of gaping plot holes. The curse of the modern thriller is that it often has enormous gaps in logic or plausibility. Disturbia, on the other hand, doesnít let you get distracted by noticing all the stuff that doesnít add up. Whatís here pretty much makes sense.
Mostly, though, itís the performances that make the movie. Shia LaBeouf has been on the verge of big-time stardom for a while now, and I think heís about ready to break on through. The actor makes the wise choice to bring dimension to his character. For all his behavior issues, Kale is a likeable kid; at the same time, we also feel the unresolved anger thatís inside him and we get how that pushes him toward trouble. In this type of movie, itís easy for actors to coast, letting the thrills and action scenes do the work for them. LaBeouf doesnít allow that to happen. He cares about Kale and, more importantly, he cares about whether we care. And we do, which makes the unfolding of the events more suspenseful. Hitchcock knew that a compelling protagonist was essential to draw us in; so, apparently, does LaBeouf.
Then thereís David Morse, who is the stealth weapon of Disturbia. Characters like Turner are exceedingly hard to play because their effectiveness depends on their ability to seem neutral. Tip your hand too far in one direction and the audience senses that youíre a villain too early; tip it too far in the other direction and the crowd doesnít buy it if your character does, in fact, turn out to be a baddie. Morse achieves a perfectly unreadable tone with his performance. I think general logic kind of tells you whether Turner is ultimately good or evil, but the veteran actor nicely holds his cards close to the vest.
Thereís not a whole lot of substance to Disturbia. I think they could have gone more in depth into Kaleís troubled side. As it stands, that particular point gets the plot rolling, but doesnít seem to have any kind of substantive resolution. Even so, director D.J. Caruso (Taking Lives) brings style and occasional humor to the story. He also allows time for us to know the lead character, his friends, and his enemies. This is not one of those thrillers that are in a rush to get to the scary stuff. The movie makes sure that thereís a human element established so that when the suspense does come, itís backed up by something genuine.
Obviously, nothing is going to compare to Rear Window, but Disturbia is nevertheless a neat, well-made little thriller thatís worth checking out. And keep your eyes on this LaBeouf kid; heís gonna be big.
( out of four)
Disturbia is rated PG-13 for sequences of terror and violence, and some sensuality. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.
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