This review was written for the festival screening of "Disturbia."
AUSTIN -- A bored teen finds that his rear window isn't the only source for voyeuristic kicks in "Disturbia," which draws heavily on the Hitchcock classic while updating it for the 21st century. Better and more likable than today's average thriller, it should do well with suspense-hungry viewers if marketing can get past a title that, however clever, might incorrectly suggest a more twisted horror film.
Although it begins with a jolt, the picture, written by Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth, enjoys taking its time before introducing the suspense element. After losing his temper and assaulting a Spanish teacher, everydude Kale (Shia LaBeouf) is confined to house arrest. He is fitted with an anklet that will summon police if he strays even beyond the front lawn. Making the most of confinement, he spies on the block's grade-school brats, the philandering husband across the street, and (you call this punishment?) the beautiful, pool-loving girl who just moved in next door.
After exploiting the setup for its comic fantasy value (Kale drools over many a pool and bedroom vista, though the filmmakers shy away from actual nudity) and bringing Kale's pal Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) and the girl herself, Ashley (Sarah Roemer), into the voyeuristic crew, the film shifts focus to one neighbor who keeps to himself and happens to fit the profile of a wanted serial killer.
David Morse, as Turner, has let himself go just enough to give his character the look of an indulgent sensualist -- a man whose generous appetites could be no sicker than those of any other pick-up bar Lothario, but might plausibly extend to Lecter-ish delicacies. Morse walks a tidy tightrope in confrontations with his teenage observers, suggesting menace while allowing the possibility that he's simply shy.
Avoiding the anxiety-provoking claustrophobia of its predecessor, "Disturbia" opens up the proscenium-like staging of Jimmy Stewart's apartment, letting Kale roam a bit (the better to show off the Craftsman furnishings in Mom's bungalow, Mom being "The Matrix" hottie Carrie-Anne Moss) and opening the door to the inevitable moment when he stops making trouble by proxy and explores his neighbor's lair firsthand.
Tension rises steadily as Kale continues monitoring Turner. Director D.J. Caruso stretches credibility a bit in his staging -- how could any peeping tom avoid notice in a room with so many lamps turned on? -- and the film reaches once or twice, as with a camcorder that confusingly goes "pop" like a vintage flash bulb, to incorporate bits of business from "Rear Window."
In general, though, the movie is clever about weaving the tech trappings of its setting (garage door openers, cell-phone cameras) into the action. (Co-screenwriter Ellsworth got similar mileage out of "Red Eye.") There's plenty to ensure fresh jolts for viewers who know Hitch's tricks inside out, to say nothing of young moviegoers who don't know Grace Kelly from Thelma Ritter.
Montecito Picture Company/DreamWorks
Director: D.J. Caruso
Screenwriters: Christopher B. Landon, Carl Ellsworth
Producers: Jackie Marcus, Joe Medjuck, Tom Pollock
Executive producers: Ashley Brucks, Jeremy Kramer, Ivan Reitman, Steven Spielberg, E. Bennett Walsh
Director of photography: Rogier Stoffers
Production designer: Tom Southwell
Costume designer: Marie-Sylvie Deveau
Music: Geoff Zanelli
Editor: Jim Page
Kale: Shia LaBeouf
Julie: Carrie-Anne Moss
Turner: David Morse
Ashley: Sarah Roemer
Ronnie: Aaron Yoo
Running time -- 104 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13