Rear Window gets YouTubed in Disturbia, a mostly clever, jump-and-scream thriller about voyeurism, murder, and the stuff going on behind closed (garage) doors in suburban America.
Inventively updating the Jimmy Stewart shut-in in Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 classic, director D.J. Caruso and screenwriters Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth have made their protagonist housebound not because of a broken leg, but because of the gizmo strapped to his leg: After surviving a horrendous car accident that kills his father, high schooler Kale Brecht (Shia LaBeouf) becomes an emotional wreck and slugs one of his teachers. Sentenced to house arrest, Kale has to wear an electronic ankle bracelet - if he leaves the parameters of his home, an alarm goes off and the police come.
So Kale passes his time playing video games, scarfing (and sculpting) junk food, scanning the neighborhood through binoculars: a married guy getting it on with his maid, some little kids sneaking cable porn, the dishy teenage daughter of a couple just moved in from the city, and a guy with a vintage Ford Mustang that matches the description of a vintage Ford Mustang spotted when a young woman was abducted.
The woman is missing and presumed dead.
And so Kale, aided by his goof-off pal Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) and that beautiful new neighbor, Ashley (Sarah Roemer), start sleuthing around, deploying cell phones, laptops and videocams to determine whether the creepy Mustang owner, Mr. Turner (Philadelphia's own David Morse, once again playing the nut job), has an inventory of body bags in his garage.
Caruso orchestrates all this in swift, efficient strokes, mixing the jolts with some jokes, and building measurable suspense with a minimum of blood and gore. LaBeouf projects an intelligence and an Everyguy attitude that's remindful of a younger John Cusack, while Roemer has a younger Gwyneth Paltrow thing going, if Gwyneth Paltrow had been a cast member of The O.C.
Disturbia, like a lot of high-concept thrillers, lets a few balls drop as the climax comes around: Kale's mom, played by Carrie-Ann Moss, does some truly dopey things, Roemer's character virtually disappears from view at an especially vital moment, and audience members will be yelling "Call for backup!" at the guy playing Officer Gutierrez (Jose Pablo Cantillo).
But at a certain point, movies like Disturbia require suspension of belief. To its credit, that moment comes much later in the game than usual. Up until then, like Rear Window before it, Disturbia is sly and suspenseful and full of mounting dread.
Disturbia *** (out of four stars)
Directed by D.J. Caruso, written by Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth, photography by Rogier Stoffers. Distributed by Paramount/DreamWorks.
Running time: 1 hour, 44 mins.
Kale Brecht. . . Shia LaBeouf
Ashley. . . Sarah Roemer
Mr. Turner. . . David Morse
Julie Brecht. . . Carrie-Ann Moss
Ronnie. . . Aaron Yoo
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, sex, profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/stevenrea.