[Screen It]


(1998) (James Marsden, Katie Holmes) (R)

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Horror/Thriller: After his family moves to a small town, a teenager discovers a sinister secret behind the behavior of a group of near-perfect teens who wish to bring more kids into their fold.
After the suicide of his older brother, Steve Clark (JAMES MARSDEN) and his family -- parents Nathan (TERRY DAVID MULLIGAN) and Cynthia (SUSAN HOGAN) and younger sister Lindsay (KATHARINE ISABELLE) -- move to the pleasantly quaint town of Cradle Bay.

Attending the local high school, Steve meets stoner Gavin Strick (NICK STAHL) and his albino buddy, U.V. (CHAD E. DONELLA) who quickly inform Steve of the school's class system, where the "Blue Ribbons" -- the most popular and successful students -- rule over the geeks, motorheads, and other assorted cliques.

Having witnessed one of the Blue Ribbons kill several people but not be arrested by the town's head cop, Officer Cox (STEVE RAILSBACK), Gavin knows something weird is happening, but no one, including Steve, believes his paranoid sounding story. Besides, Steve is more interested in Gavin's loner friend, Rachel Wagner (KATIE HOLMES).

Unfortunately, Chug Roman (A.J. BUCKLEY), one of the Blue Ribbons, is also interested in Rachel, a fact that doesn't endear him to the group, although she wants nothing to do with Chug or them. Steve also notices the odd behavior of the Blue Ribbons, and gets suspicious when the school psychiatrist, Dr. Caldicott (BRUCE GREENWOOD), encourages him to join the elitist group.

After Gavin suddenly and surprisingly becoming a Blue Ribbon and as more violent events occur and more mysterious behavior unfolds, Steve and Rachel discover the technologically sinister truth behind the Blue Ribbons. With the aide of Dorian Newberry (WILLIAM SADLER), the school's enigmatic janitor, Steve and Rachel attempt to stop Caldicott and the group while avoiding becoming Blue Ribbons themselves.

Teens drawn by the teenage cast and thinking this will be like the recent "Scream" movies probably will.
The reason was not available, but we'd guess it was for violence, profanity, and some drug use.
  • JAMES MARSDEN plays the new teenager in town who falls for the loner girl, is beset by abuse from the Blue Ribbons, and discovers the truth behind their behavior.
  • KATIE HOLMES plays a streetwise loner (with nose and naval rings) who helps Steve uncover the truth behind the Blue Ribbons.
  • NICK STAHL plays a high school "stoner" who witnessed a murder cover-up, but can't get anyone to believe in his paranoid-sounding theory.
  • BRUCE GREENWOOD plays the school psychiatrist who's taken drastic measures to make sure that his students are successful and behave properly (and has done so without their knowledge).


    OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
    Late in this wannabe teenage horror film, the main character -- who's discovered the sinister secret concerning some "perfect" students in the new town into which he's moved -- responds to an inquiry about his recent actions by stating that he's making up his plan as he goes along. That must be what the filmmakers of "Disturbing Behavior" said while making this uneventful, poorly executed horror film.

    The most disturbing behavior concerning this film -- beyond it making it to the big screen in the first place -- is that it got a coveted summer slot in which to open. Obviously MGM and the film's producers are hoping to capitalize on the recent success of "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and the "Scream" movies, but this pale, rip-off imitation of "The Stepford Wives" should only find limited success at the box office.

    Clocking in at a ludicrously (but mercifully) short running time of just more than eighty minutes (shorter than most animated films aimed at younger kids' short attention spans), this film clearly should have gone straight to video. Certainly not as clever as the "Scream" movies and providing a surprisingly minute supply of attempted, let alone successfully scary moments, this film is about as weak an effort at making a feature film as I've seen in years.

    Essentially stealing and marginally modifying the plot from the 1975 film, "The Stepford Wives" (where Katherine Ross discovers the technologically sinister secret behind all of the pleasantly dutiful and docile married women of Stepford), this film features a tepid plot, horrible pacing with nearly no suspenseful buildup of genuine scares, and only adequate performances from its predominantly teen cast.

    The only suspense generated by the movie concerns the mystery behind the collectively perfect personalities of the Blue Ribbons, and there's just barely enough there to keep one from nodding off in the darkened theater. Once the technological secret is revealed, however, the little bit of hot air that was holding up this film escapes and we're left with a picture that goes flat faster than a punctured balloon. Without any supernatural or genuinely scary moments, the film simply turns into a near farcical examination (I use that term loosely) of the haves and have nots of high school "society."

    Like any well-intended technology, things obviously go wrong with the transistor enhanced students, but neither their occasional violent outbursts nor their zombie-like demeanor is frightening or unsettling in the least. One never gets the eerie (and needed) feeling that everyone in the town is on this plan -- which is oddly true because not everyone is, a fact that diminishes the potential horror -- and both the parents and their silicon chip controlled kids are far too normal and two-dimensional to give the film a much needed dose of spookiness.

    Likewise, and despite the isolation implied by the ferry ride to the town, we never feel any intimidating isolation or believe that the main characters are trapped in a town that's completely ready to bring them in -- the sinister "plan" seems too haphazard. Whatever happened to the plot devices of the ferry not running, the phones not working, etc... to rev up the suspense?

    Director David Nutter, who makes his feature film debut after cutting his teeth on episodes of TV's "The X-Files" and "Millennium," and screenwriter Scott Rosenberg ("Con Air," "Beautiful Girls") obviously know the basic elements required for this sort of story, but deliver them in ways that are anything but spooky. The plot is full of holes and inconsistencies, and the ending is about as predictable as they come -- a fact that's worsened because the "solution" arrives at the last minute, was telegraphed early in the story, and isn't executed by the main character, but instead by a supporting one.

    The performances from the cast are likewise uneventful. James Marsden, who makes his feature film debut after an early career on TV, has the appropriate teen look for the part, but isn't given much to do with his character. Katie Holmes ("The Ice Storm," and TV's "Dawson's Creek") should entice some teens into the theaters, but her character is even less developed than Marsden's. The only bright spot is William Sadler's ("Die Hard II") goofy take as the enigmatic janitor, although it's never explained why a man "who just wanted to disappear" would take a job as a basement dwelling janitor obsessed with killing rats.

    Hoping to be effectively spooky without much effort or intelligence, this film is sloppily executed, boring, and anything but scary like a good horror film should be. Although it may score well at the box office in its opening week, its core target audience of teens should be wise enough to smell this stinker long before the end credits roll, thus ensuring a quick trip for it to the video stores. We give "Disturbing Behavior" a 1 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the film's content. Several violent encounters occur throughout the movie resulting in deaths or injuries, and some of them are quite bloody. Two of the characters are "stoners" and we occasionally see one of them smoking pot. With more than 20 "f" and other such words being uttered, profanity is extreme.

    One scene involves a female student exposing her breasts to the main character and trying to come on to him, but nothing else sexual happens from this. Another scene involves unseen, but heavily implied oral sex that ends in violence like that other sexual scene. The film does contain some other moments that may be unsettling or scary to very young viewers and sensitive adults, but beyond a scene or two, most of the material isn't genuinely scary as in other spooky horror films. Since many teens might want to see this film, however, you may want to take a closer look at its content to determine whether it's appropriate for them or anyone else in your home.

    Of special note for those concerned with bright, flashing lights: During the opening credits, several bright flashes occur over a predominantly darkened screen.

  • Gavin smokes a joint at night.
  • Gavin tells Steve that his friend U.V. has some "premo weed" and that he "smoked a fatie in gym."
  • Gavin explains to Steve the "class" system established in their high school and explains the "drug of choice" among the geeks, motorheads, etc..., but only names actual drugs (ecstacy, etc...) in a few instances.
  • Gavin asks an older man headed into a grocery store if he could buy him some beer (the guy refuses).
  • Gavin shows Steve a picture of some of his old friends doing drugs (who later became Blue Ribbons).
  • Gavin smokes another joint.
  • Rachel makes the comment, "Who put the acid in my spam?" when she sees the newly reformed Gavin.
  • U.V. tells Rachel that he's got to go and sell some more pot.
  • After pulling a nose ring from another student's nose (not seen), Chug holds the bloody ring (with what looks like some flesh hanging onto it), while the violated student's face and hands are very bloody.
  • Steve spits out some blood onto the cafeteria floor and we see that his nose and mouth are bloody after the Blue Ribbons have beaten him.
  • Steve has a small bloody cut on his face after running through the woods at night.
  • After bashing her head into a mirror, a Blue Ribbon girl has a large stream of blood running down her face.
  • We see a closeup of a person's eye that has big, bloody splotches in it, and moments later, also see a somewhat bloody chip (or something similar) that's been removed from it.
  • We see a mental patient who appears to have been flossing his teeth and both they and his hands are very bloody.
  • After being hit on the head several times, some blood spreads across the floor from the unconscious person's head.
  • A person who's been shot has a bloody, wet shirt.
  • Obviously the work of Dr. Caldicott, his team, and the transformed Blue Ribbons and their parents all have both for "stepford-izing" many of the kids in the town.
  • Officer Cox allows a Blue Ribbon to escape after killing a girl and shooting another police officer.
  • A Blue Ribbon purposefully overturns Newberry's mop bucket.
  • Chug screams at Rachel and pins her against a boiler in the basement where he feels her clothed breast and prepares to rape her (after she turns down his offer to go out) until Newberry's sonic rat deterrent makes him go crazy (which he later finds and smashes).
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers, but depending on one's age and tolerance for such material, the listed scenes may or may not be suspenseful or scary.
  • As Steve walks home through the woods at night, many of the Blue Ribbons tauntingly call out his name and scamper about him just out of eyesight, trying to scare him.
  • Chug screams at Rachel and pins her against a boiler in the basement where he feels her clothed breast and prepares to rape her until Newberry's sonic rat deterrent makes him go crazy (which he later finds and smashes).
  • Steve and Rachel sneak into a mental ward looking for information. They walk down dimly lit halls and have several brief, spooky encounters with some mental patients.
  • A probe nears Steve's eye as he's about to undergo the surgical procedure that will turn him into a Blue Ribbon (while he's strapped to a chair).
  • The ending, where the good characters encounter the Blue Ribbons and a later fight scene at the edge of a cliff, may be suspenseful to some viewers.
  • Handgun: Used by a Blue Ribbon to shoot and kill a police officer.
  • Handgun: Gavin shows one to Steve and says that he's going to use it on anyone who tries to convert him into a Blue Ribbon (Steve eventually takes it away from him).
  • Handgun: Used by Caldicott to shoot at an approaching car and wound the person inside.
  • Due to a several minute stretch where the audio didn't play at our screening (during just one scene), the following should be considered a minimum.
  • Phrases: "Shut the f*ck up," "Eat sh*t," "P*ckerhead," "Hard on" (erection), "Drop dead," "Chick" (for a woman), "Bite me," "Bitch," "Slut," "Dirt bag," "Dork," "Eat me," "Retard," "Moron" and "Bastard."
  • Rachel has a pierced nose and navel, and it's pointed out that another girl has a tatoo on her leg.
  • A student gives his teacher "the finger."
  • Gavin asks an older man headed into a grocery store if he could buy him some beer (the guy refuses).
  • Newberry suddenly pops up out of a manhole cover and startles Gavin and Steve.
  • Mental patients startle Rachel (and some audience members) on two separate occasions in a mental ward.
  • A moderate amount of scary or suspenseful music occurs during the film.
  • A few rap songs briefly play during the movie (most with unintelligible lyrics, but it sounded like "motherf*cker" was uttered during one of them).
  • Due to a several minute stretch where the audio didn't play at our screening (in one scene), the following should be considered a minimum.
  • At least 22 "f" words (1 used with "mother" and another possible one during a song), 18 "s" words, 5 phrases using a slang term for male genitals ("p*ckerhead"), 3 S.O.B.'s, 3 hells, 1 crap, and 1 use each of "God," "Jesus," "Jesus Christ" and "Swear To God" as exclamations.
  • A guy and a girl make out in a parked car, but he stops her saying, "It's no good. I need my fluids." She then moves down his chest (out of the camera's view), we hear her unzipping his pants, and then see the pleasured look on his face as she has oral sex with him.
  • Gavin makes a comment about a pretty girl saying that she's "the purveyor of my every masturbatory fantasy."
  • A woman talks about a new Blue Ribbon candidate spending too much time "listening to rock and roll music and masturbating."
  • A Blue Ribbon girl, who says she's been tutoring Steve's younger sister, comes out of the bathroom after undoing her top. We see her bare breasts and she tries to come on to him, but he refuses her.
  • A person comments that whenever a Blue Ribbon "gets a hard on, they go out and beat someone with it."
  • Chug feels Rachel's clothed breast as he pins her against a boiler in the school's basement.
  • Gavin smokes a few times, while Rachel smokes once and Newberry occasionally has an unlit cigarette butt in his mouth.
  • Steve and his family have moved to Cradle Bay to get away from the tragedy of his older brother committing suicide several months before, and the father still doesn't want anyone to talk about it.
  • Conformity and whether it's a good thing or not.
  • The "class" system often found in high schools where popular kids hang out with each other, but look down on the other groups, such as the "geeks" or the "motorheads."
  • One of the Blue Ribbons goes crazy, grabs the head of a girl giving him oral sex, and breaks her neck. The police show up moments later, and upon getting out of the car, he grabs a gun and shoots one of the officers (but the other calms him down and lets him go).
  • A "motorhead" student attacks another student who was making fun of his intelligence during class and they have to be separated.
  • Some Blue Ribbons threaten another student (due to lack of audio at this point during our screening, we don't know what was said).
  • Chug attacks two other students in a grocery store and throws them around it. He grabs one by his nose ring and presumably yanks it out because we later see him holding a bloody ring (and the other guy's face and hands are very bloody). He then proceeds to continue beating up these guys until he's stopped.
  • We see several Blue Ribbons and a newly converted one smashing up his former hotrod car with what looked like mallets and pipes.
  • Steve wrestles with Gavin for a gun that the latter says he's going to use to kill anyone who tries to convert him into a Blue Ribbon.
  • Some Blue Ribbons push Steve to the floor and U.V. across a table as they try to talk to Gavin in the cafeteria. The other students then rush out and Steve picks up a chair and uses it to hit one of the Blue Ribbons and then hits another before the rest grab and pummel him (punches and kicks). Gavin then knees Steve in the gut.
  • After Steve's refused her sexual advances, a Blue Ribbon girl bashes her head into a mirror (causing a large gash that bleeds down her head). She then picks up a glass shard and tries to attack Steve and he defends himself by throwing her into the wall (and she then leaves).
  • Chug screams at Rachel and pins her against a boiler in the basement where he feels her clothed breast and prepares to rape her until Newberry's sonic rat deterrent makes him go crazy (which he later finds and smashes).
  • We learn that Steve's brother killed himself with a gun (before this story begins).
  • Rachel punches and knocks out a mental patient to make her be quiet.
  • Cox punches Steve in the gut, but Newberry hits him over the head, knocking him out.
  • Steve punches Caldicott, but is knocked to the ground by a Blue Ribbon. Later, Caldicott punches Steve, nearly knocking him out.
  • A probe nears Steve's eye as he's about to undergo the surgical procedure that will turn him into a Blue Ribbon. He escapes, however, and hits several people while doing so.
  • Steve and Chug get into a fight over Rachel and they slam each other into some walls as well as throw some punches. Chug then tries to strangle Steve with a telephone cord, but Rachel hits Chug several times with a metal rod, knocking him out and causing some blood to flow from his head and spread across the floor.
  • A man shoots at, and wounds, another man who's quickly approaching in his car, but not before the car spins out of control and strikes the shooter.
  • Many Blue Ribbons are killed along with another man as the car they're on/in goes over a cliff and crashes hundreds of feet below.
  • Two people fight (many punches) over a cliff with one of them eventually falling to his death.

  • Reviewed July 21, 1998

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