[Screen It]

(2007) (Shia LeBeouf, Sarah Roemer) (PG-13)

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Suspense/Thriller: Sentenced to house arrest, a troubled teen takes to spying on his neighbors, including a man he believes might be a serial killer.
A year after his father's death in a car accident, 17-year-old Kale (SHIA LaBEOUF) lives with his mom, Julie (CARRIE-ANNE MOSS), but hasn't been the same since his dad's passing. Accordingly, he receives a sentence of three months of house arrest when he punches his Spanish teacher in class. Unable to travel more than 100 feet from his ankle bracelet's sensor -- lest he receive a visit from Officer Gutierrez (JOSE PABLO CANTILLO) -- and with Julie removing or limiting his access to his favorite pastimes, Kale's diversionary options are limited.

He can always play video games with his friend Ronnie (AARON YOO), but he finds more interest in spying on his neighbors. Among them is Ashley (SARAH ROEMER), an attractive teen who's moved with her parents from the city to the 'burbs and draws the boys' interest due to her bikini-clad swimming in the backyard pool.

Of equal interest, but for different reasons, is Robert Turner (DAVID MORSE), a mysterious man who loosely -- along with the car he drives -- fits the profile of a suspected serial killer. Despite their previous ogling of her, Ashley soon joins Kale and Ronnie's stakeout of Turner. As their observations lead them to believe he might really be the killer, the teens must decide how to prove that without being caught in the act.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
Back in 1979's "Being There," Shirley MacLaine's character mistakenly interprets the "I like to watch" utterance from Peter Seller's Chance Gardener. Accordingly, while she pleasures herself, he watches TV, seemingly unaware of what's occurring off the set. It was a brilliant spin on the usual constructs and expectations of voyeurism.

Of course, and as countless sociologists have probably documented in any number of studies, many humans like to watch others, be that sexually as Eve Rand assumed above, or just in general, thus spawning the term "people watching." While much of that occurs nowadays on the Internet (via 24 hour web cams) or TV (on "reality" programming), many still do it the old-fashioned way -- by peeping out the window.

Alfred Hitchcock and screenwriter John Michael Hayes realized that a half-century ago in adapting Cornell Woolrich's "It Had to be Murder" into the universally acclaimed thriller "Rear Window." In it, James Stewart plays a photographer confined to his apartment thanks to a busted leg. Bored, he takes to watching his various neighbors across the way through the rear windows of their apartments, eventually leading him to believe Raymond Burr's character has murdered his wife, a claim no one else buys.

It was, and still is, a terrific and taut little thriller about such voyeuristic human tendencies and the pitfalls of getting involved in the lives of those one sees all of the time but otherwise don't know. Thirty years later, Brian De Palma used that basic concept in "Body Double," an effective if far more sordid and sensationalistic suspense flick.

With a little less in-between time in terms of yet another temporal span, we now get another take of the story -- this time from a teen perspective -- in "Disturbia." Far more in common with Hitchcock's version than De Palma's, this one features a troubled teen -- "Even Stevens'" Shia LaBeouf -- under house arrest and who, out of confined boredom, starts spying on his neighbors (of the suburban, rather than urban variety).

As with most any male teenager, that initially pertains to ogling the pretty girl next door (Sarah Roemer). Soon, however, she joins him and the best friend character (Aaron Yoo) in believing the guy across the other side of the street (David Morse) is actually the neighborhood serial killer.

With that setup, those familiar with "Rear Window" won't have any doubts about where this one's headed. Yet, director D.J. Caruso -- working from a screenplay by Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth -- puts some unique touches on the offering. That starts with a rather graphic and completely unexpected car crash sequence and then continues through a somewhat charming boy meets girl comedy angle. The purpose of the former is to establish the protagonist's mindset and subsequent house arrest, while the latter is designed to make the teen characters engaging enough that we care about them once the plot begins to thicken.

For a while, much of that works, even if the lighter material does temper much of the earlier bits of suspense -- perhaps too much. The result is something of an odd feeling hybrid, although that completely evaporates once the full-blown thriller aspects kick in. And that's when the film completely falls apart, as all suspension of disbelief flies out and away from the window like a startled pigeon.

Characters suddenly behave as if in a horror film, doing stupid things just to try to tweak the viewer, while the carefully calculated suspect suddenly breaks character and acts like the killer he is, all just for the same manipulative reasons. Despite the standard array of red herrings and other misdirection, there's never any doubt about the perp's identity.

While that unintentionally gives us superior position, where we're accordingly supposed to worry more about the characters since we know or at least anticipate the truth, the film would have been far more interesting and entertaining from a thriller aspect should there have been multiple suspects. Beyond falling into the more the merrier category, that would have kept the viewer constantly off balance, thus creating a more interesting, engaging and yes, thrilling thriller.

As it stands, the film moderately works for a while until it completely unravels in the third act. And that's not something anyone wants to see, no matter how much they like to watch. "Disturbia" rates as a 4.5 out of 10.

Reviewed April 10, 2007 / Posted April 13, 2007

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