Writers Christopher Landon and Carl Ellsworth receive sole credit for the movie Disturbia, which is surprising, as the film clearly is based on both a previously published work (a 1942 short
story by Cornell Woolrich titled It Had to Be Murder) and the John Michael Hayes–penned, Alfred Hitchcock– directed, Academy Award–nominated screenplay of Woolrich’s tale. The latter would be 1954’s Rear Window, starring, of course, Jimmy Stewart as a wheelchair-bound and housebound Peeping Tom who suspects his next-door neighbor has murdered at least one young woman. And what, precisely, is Disturbia about? Shia LaBeouf plays a housebound Peeping Tom who suspects his next-door neighbor has murdered at least one young woman. But wait, there’s no wheelchair in Disturbia. So scratch that. Not the same story. Not at all.
There’s not one single bombshell dropped in Disturbia; everyone is exactly who you think they are and does exactly what you think they’ll do precisely when you think they’ll do it. The audience is liable to spend the whole screening nodding its collective head in agreement, offering its yawning approval as the story goes through the creaky motions with nary a narrative letdown as it winds its way toward the okey-dokey adios that sends our fair, imperiled protagonists on their merry way.
But it must be said, Disturbia is also a marked improvement for the man who made it: director D.J. Caruso, who is responsible for such leaden, nonsensical dreck as The Salton Sea and Two for the Money, the latter of which makes sense only when viewed in reverse with the sound muted. At least this time around Caruso has proven he can get a film from point A to B without tripping over the “why.” There are no plot twists in this film, no curves or bends of any kind. It’s . . . functional, which is intended as a sincere compliment.
Disturbia does have one thing going for it: LaBeouf, who’s so good he’s managed to shrug off his Project Greenlight debacle The Battle of Shaker Heights, the Charlie’s Angels sequel, and I, Robot. LaBeouf plays Kale Brecht, a high schooler who, during the movie’s opening minutes, watches his dad get killed in a gruesome traffic accident on their way home from a blissful pop-and-kiddo fly-fishing trip. The incident renders Kale bitter, sullen, withdrawn, until one day he pops off in class and winds up in home detention during, naturally, summer break—with Mom (Carrie-Anne Moss, already relegated to matronly roles) as his jailer.
Kale, electronically tethered to police HQ, can’t leave the confines of his yard, so he and his best friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) hide behind upstairs window drapery to spy on the neighborhood: the pre-teen porn junkies who leave flaming bags of dog shit on doorsteps, the new Dream Girl Next Door (Sarah Roemer) who reads on her rooftop, the creepy dude (David Morse, duh) with the dented Mustang just like the one driven by a suspected murderer. It’s only a matter of time before Roemer’s character, Ashley, becomes the Nancy Drew to Kale and Ronnie’s horndog Hardy Boys. (If Sarah Roemer is this movie’s Grace Kelly, does that make Aaron Yoo its Thelma Ritter? And David Morse its Raymond Burr? To the last, sadly, the answer is a head-hanging yes.)
LaBeouf gets us to buy the whole stale routine: the resentful teen who disobeys Mom by refusing to turn off his video game, the love-struck doofus pining after the shiksa over the hedge, the brave action hero wielding heavy objects. There’s no doubt that’s why LaBeouf’s often mentioned in the same gossipy whispers as “Indiana Jones Jr.”; few other actors of his generation can play every shade of young adulthood without it coming off as a routine (the only other of note is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, he of Brick and The Lookout). Hopefully, LaBeouf will be allowed to graduate high school soon, lest he wind up like John Cusack in the mid ’80s and turn up at one too many proms.
Morse, sadly, is once more cast in the unwinnable role of the villain so treacherous and obvious he does all but twirl his mustache while tying the girl to the train tracks. The wasting of David Morse—a complex actor whom only Sean Penn, twice Morse’s director, seems to notice—is a subject that should not go without comment: His filmography, dating all the way back to the trashy pleasure The Long Kiss Goodnight in 1996, is cluttered with disposable bad guys like Disturbia‘s Mr. Turner, who skulks around in the shadows of his garage when he’s not splattering blood (yes, but whose?) on a workroom window.
But, of course, this film is not about making Morse anything other than a creep, LaBeouf a hero, Roemer a girlfriend, Yoo the comic relief, and Carrie-Anne Moss the naive mom. Ironically,
Disturbia‘s a thriller that doesn’t want to bother you.