Fri, Aug 24, 2007 - Page 16 News List

Teens at the rear window

By A. O. SCOTT  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Not every teen under house arrest is lucky enough to have the excitement of living next to a serial killer.

PHOTO: COURTESY OF UIP

Disturbia, a kind of adolescent Rear Window, is nowhere near as clumsy or grandiose as its title. The hero, a troubled but basically decent young man named Kale (Shia LaBeouf), does remark once or twice on the dullness and fakery of his suburban milieu, but this is really just antisocial teenage posing.

Kale and his mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) live in a lovely Craftsman-style house on a leafy block, and the possibility that a serial killer may live next door just adds character. Another neighbor is a pretty teenage girl, Ashley (Sarah Roemer), whose hobbies include sunbathing, yoga and bellybutton display. Kale doesn't have it so bad. How many high school geeks have a mom who was in The Matrix?

Not that Kale's life is exactly idyllic. Reeling from a family tragedy, he finds himself in serious trouble after he punches his Spanish teacher, an assault for which he is sentenced to house arrest. Outfitted with an ankle bracelet that summons the police if he strays beyond his yard, and stripped of television, video games and iPod by his harried mom, Kale is left with nothing better to do than spy on the neighbors.

Like James Stewart's immobilized character in Rear Window, but with a mini digital-video camera as well as binoculars, he observes the habits of various local characters, though he is most interested in ogling Ashley, who is new in town and who takes his voyeuristic attention in reasonably good humor. "I don't know if it's sweet or totally creepy," she muses.

Objectively you'd have to go with creepy, but that description hardly fits LaBeouf, one of the most engaging young actors in movies today. Disturbia, capably directed by D. J. Caruso, makes the most of its star's jumpy, quick-witted charm. Likable and complicated, Kale, assisted by Ashley and his goofy sidekick, Ronnie (Aaron Yoo), keeps the movie lively and interesting while its fairly predictable suspense plot takes shape.

DISTURBIA

DIRECTED BY: D. J. CARUSO

STARRING: SHIA LABEOUF (KALE), DAVID MORSE (MR. TURNER), SARAH ROEMER (ASHLEY), CARRIE-ANNE MOSS (JULIE), AARON YOO (RONNIE)

RUNNING TIME: 104 MINUTES

TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY


It wouldn't be Hollywood suburbia, after all, without a dark secret lurking in one of the well-kept houses. And sure enough, the man in the blue Colonial whose most notable quirk at first seems to be compulsive lawn-mowing may be up to something much more sinister. Or so Kale comes to believe after observing some strange late-night doings at the man's house.

Is he a murderous psycho, or just a loner who values his privacy? There isn't much doubt since the suspect is played by David Morse, for whom soft-spoken menace has become something of a specialty.

Disturbia will never be accused of undue originality, but its adherence to genre conventions works in its favor. Instead of manufacturing elaborate, ridiculous plot twists or imposing overwrought psychological melodrama on a basically absurd premise, Caruso and the screenwriters, Christopher Landon and Carl Ellsworth, opt for efficient, clever B-movie execution. There are no big surprises, but the jumps and jolts are well timed and the overall mood is at once grisly and good-natured - more diverting than disturbing.

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