Thursday, 06 October 2022

Two thriller movies differ in quality


Smarter and more exciting than the usual teen suspense thriller, “Disturbia” taps into the Alfred Hitchcock sensibility of claustrophobic chills that made “Rear Window” an iconic masterpiece.

While director D.J. Caruso has a body of work not likely to be confused with that of the Master of Suspense, he delivers a more than decent thriller in “Disturbia” that fully exploits the chilling lure of voyeurism updated to the modern era’s obsession with such technological innovations as video cameras, cell phones and laptops. One can only imagine and wonder how Hitchcock would use our fascination with the high-tech world if he were still alive. “Disturbia” might be on to something.

Traumatized by the tragic death of his father a year earlier, Shia LaBeouf’s Kale, though evidently smart, suffers long-lasting psychological effects that have him shut down and withdrawn. When an insensitive teacher brings up his father, Kale punches him out, and only the intervention of his mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) keeps him out of juvenile hall.

Instead, he gets to spend his summer vacation under house arrest, wearing an ankle monitor that permits him only to wander no more than 100 feet from the perimeter of his house. On top of these restrictions, he soon loses his video games and cable TV when his exasperated mom takes away privileges.

With nothing to do outside of occasional visits from his goofy friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo), Kale begins spying on his neighbors to kill the boredom. Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said “you can observe a lot by just watching,” and Kale takes this heart by turning his binoculars on the neighborhood.

First, he detects a businessman’s pattern of indiscretion with the housemaid when his wife is away. Then, he takes greater notice in the hot teen girl, Ashley (Sarah Roemer), who moves in next door, mainly because she likes to lounge around the pool in a bikini and goes for frequent swims.

Things take a darker, more serious turn when Kale becomes suspicious of an older man, Mr. Turner (David Morse), whose mysterious behavior includes an uncanny ability to quickly repair his vintage Mustang, seemingly identical to the one identified in TV news reports as having something to do with the disappearance of a young woman.

Not having any visible means of support, Turner nonetheless attracts young women to his nice house, with one visit become very unsettling. Kale suspects his neighbor is a serial killer, and tries to enlist his dubious friend Ronnie for some dangerous surveillance work, seeing how Kale can’t leave the house, and if he happens to trigger his ankle monitor, the vengeful cop likely to show up on the scene is a cousin to the Spanish teacher that Kale knocked senseless.

The flirtatious Ashley becomes increasingly attracted to Kale’s shenanigans, perhaps because she shares the same overactive imagination. both Ashley and Ronnie become Kale’s surrogate investigators, able to move about freely, often getting into some dangerous situations that are frightening or sinister.

The fact of the matter is that the elusive neighbor is indeed so creepy that there appears little reasonable doubt to his guilt. Naturally, Kale’s mom and the authorities are not convinced that the smarmy neighbor is any kind of threat. Well, let’s just say, there are plenty of chilling and suspenseful surprises in store.

Though wrapped up in teen angst and bitterness, “Disturbia” puts modern technological ingenuity to good effect in coming up with a darkly chilling thriller that works effectively with obvious paranoia. Even when the trail becomes somewhat predictable, this film beats a path to some fairly stunning shocks that create a satisfying suspense ride.


Putting together the stellar casting of Bruce Willis and Halle Berry is just simply not enough to create the “sexy thriller” that the filmmakers are so desperate to achieve in “Perfect Stranger.”

What results is far less than perfect, in fact so much so that this thriller is even more laughable than films like “Catwoman” and “Gothika,” which coincidentally are two stinkers that starred the exquisitely beautiful Miss Berry. In fact, if it weren’t for the “X-Men” series she’d be in a slump worse than that of the 1962 New York Mets.

Bruce Willis fares no better than his co-star, where he’s reduced to smirking a lot and looking guilty for any indiscretion that might be the least bit plausible. But, I seem to digress about the essential point of “Perfect Stranger,” which appears to be in a race with “Basic Instinct 2” for bottom-feeder entertainment.

Berry’s Rowena Price, an investigative reporter, unfortunately and unlike Sharon Stone keeps her clothes on, though she shows her curvaceous assets more than you would expect from a so-called respectable journalist.

From the get-go, Rowena isn’t much fun or even likable, coming off whiny and shrill, even after putting behind her the disappointment of having her big story on a politician’s shocking gay affairs with male interns squelched from publication.

After quitting her tabloid job, Rowena gets caught up in the murder of her estranged childhood friend Grace (Nicki Aycox), who apparently threatened to expose an affair she had with the powerful and married advertising executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis).

Thanks to help from her seedy associate Miles (Giovanni Ribisi), a computer whiz, Rowena gains access to Grace’s e-mail and learns details of the relationship with the randy Harrison. Armed with some knowledge, Rowena goes undercover and becomes a temp at Harrison’s agency, getting close to the object of her suspicions.

Meanwhile, as things unfold, Grace is revealed to have been sleeping with just about every eligible adult male in Manhattan, and Harrison starts to look like the person least likely to hook up with such damaged goods. Nevertheless, the cloud of skepticism hangs over Harrison for no other reason than his annoying smugness.

Frankly, there’s not much interesting to say about this movie because it is an unremarkable and wasted effort to create a suspense thriller. This exercise in futility has more plot twists than a sack full of pretzels.

“Perfect Stranger” is a train wreck that goes off the rails in the early going, never to recover from the inevitable absurdity of a thriller completely lacking in credibility. This unmitigated disaster wastes the talent of everyone involved, but it certainly shouldn’t waste your hard-earned money, as long as you have been warned.

Tim Riley reviews films for Lake County News.


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