Disturbia and Perfect Stranger (review)

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Preposterous, Yet Stupid

The world is in a heightened state of paranoia. We are solemnly informed of this by a character in Disturbia as if it’s a newsflash, but what it really is is an excuse: People are worried about, you know, stuff. Terrorists or serial killers could live next door to you. These kids today, oy! what can you do with them? Suburbia is stifling. Privacy’s gone — heh — right out the rear window. So it’s topical, see, to wrap them all up in one thriller aimed at junior high school kids. Sure, it’s scary and entertaining, but it’s important, too. Why, the kids could watch this for homework, it’s so relevant.
Oh, if only. If only any of it: if only it were scary or entertaining. If only it had something halfway smart to say about how paranoid everyone is, and all the other crap of modern life that’s a major bummer. But when it isn’t trying to make you flinch by jumping out at you like a funhouse skeleton, it takes exactly the opposite tact: Spying on your neighbors is a good thing — after all, a serial killer probably does live next door, and the cops are lazy and biased, so who else is gonna catch the bad guys if not us? Also, spying is romantic, and helps you get to know people, and the cute chick on the other side — the not-probably-serial-killer side — will be totally charmed to discover that you’ve been watching her with binoculars.

Yes, this is Rear Window redone for a more paranoid age, an age that embraces its paranoia as The New Normal, and not something to be disturbiaed about at all. Jimmy Stewart has morphed into high-schooler Shia LaBeouf (Bobby, Constantine) — who is, I will grant, one of the more charming young actors working today, though he is not well used here. LaBeouf’s Kale is under house arrest for the summer; he’s a good kid, but “troubled,” possibly because he’s named after a cabbage. Bored and miserable, Kale takes to watching the neighbors; the cute chick from next door, Ashley (Sarah Roemer, also not uncharming but not called upon to do anything particularly interesting either), becomes his Grace Kelly when they become convinced that Mr. Turner (David Morse: 16 Blocks, Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story), who mows his lawn a lot, is so totally a murdering lunatic that it’s, like, freaky.

But don’t look for any depth or thoughtful consideration of any of the hot-button issues Disturbia uses as scenery: this is not Rear Window, and even accidentally glancing at them is not as vital as ensuring that every kind of iPod, digital camera, cell phone, and cool high-tech gadget fills in for Jimmy Stewart’s flashbulb.

Preposterous, yet stupid. If you admire the simple elegance of the formula that underlies Disturbia, then you’ll love Perfect Stranger, a terrible mystery and a worse thriller, and one that can’t even be bothered to punch 21st-century buttons. This is, among other sorry things, a cautionary tale about the dangers of Internet chat. You know, like everyone was worried about in 1996.

Coming for Summer 2008: Don’t Go Near the Telegraph!

Honestly, though, the IM thing is but a small, small part of the patchwork of nonsense and absurdity that is this disjointed, psychologically ridiculous flick. Halle Berry (X-Men: The Last Stand, Robots) is supposed to be a journalist, a job that apparently consists of looking fabulous all the time and living in one of the ritziest buildings in Manhattan. She goes undercover as a temp in the big-deal ad agency owned by Bruce Willis (Grindhouse, The Astronaut Farmer), because she’s convinced he murdered her friend, a supposition that gets more and more idiotic as the film unfolds and completely falls apart by the end: not the possibility that Willis could be a killer, though that’s kinda shaky, but Berry’s motivation for wanting to investigate him. Though it does allow for some tortured metaphors about the lies and spin of advertising, which also make little sense in retrospect. But hey! Check out the hot IM action as Halle and Bruce chat on the computer!

Seriously: someone thought this would be riveting. But what can you expect from a movie that thinks temping is glamorous?

(Technorati tags: Disturbia, Shia LaBeouf, Perfect Stranger, Halle Berry, Bruce Willis)

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
rated PG-13 on appeal for sequences of terror and violence, and some sensuality
official site | IMDB

Perfect Stranger
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
rated R for sexual content, nudity, some disturbing violent images and language
official site | IMDB

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Fri, Apr 13, 2007 11:42am

If for no other reason, I read this website regularly for things like the cabbage line. That’s going to make me happy for the rest of the day.

Fri, Apr 13, 2007 2:34pm

Aside from my normal adoring of your writing, I like that your stoplight is now in with the reviews. Saves me from having to scan right tos ee it, and should cut down on your innane “You said it was vapid and stupid, but did you like the movie or not?” comments.

Fri, Apr 13, 2007 6:24pm

The new stoplight in the review was prompted by a friend who noted that once the movie fell off the “recent screening” listing on the right, it was not as obvious at a glance what my reaction was. I guess it wasn’t enough that the films were still listed in the annual ranking.

David C
David C
Mon, Apr 16, 2007 2:14pm

Dammit, now I actually want to write *Don’t Go Near the Telegraph*! (“The clicking is coming from inside the house!”)

Mon, Apr 16, 2007 9:48pm

And as everyone who has seen the fake trailers in *Grindhouse* knows, *Don’t Go Near the Telegraph!* should clearly be directed by Edgar Wright (he directed the fake trailer for *Don’t!*).