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Review: 'Disturbing Behavior' alarmingly like 'Stepford Wives'

Web posted on: Friday, July 31, 1998 5:58:57 PM

From Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- Anybody ever seen "The Stepford Wives?" I mean, anybody except Scott Rosenberg, the screenwriter of the new teen-age thriller known as "Disturbing Behavior?"

"The Stepford Wives" was a 1975 would-be shocker in which the men of a small town instigate a plan to alter their wives' behavior, making them (quite against their will) endlessly gentle, understanding, and husband-friendly. Eventually, a couple of women start catching on to exactly what's happening in the cozy community of Stepford, and then you spend the rest of the movie waiting for it to end.

Except that the housewives have been changed into buffed, polished, poster-ready teens, that's also the nutshell description of "Disturbing Behavior." I mean up and down and backwards. It's the same movie!

Rosenberg and his director, David Nutter, surely know that their target demographic can't bring themselves to rent a movie that was released before the advent of the Bart Simpson T-shirt, so they're on pretty safe movie-stealing ground. The catch is that they've violated the very first rule of movie stealing -- only steal from the best, guys. You'd still be safe. Nobody rents that stuff, either.

Clip: "Will you go out with me?":
2.75Mb QuickTime Movie
Entire theatrical trailer:
3.1Mb QuickTime Movie

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Formulaic sex, violence, rock-n-roll

Pretend you're a movie producer, dear reader. (I've always wanted to refer to you guys that way.) How, exactly, do you induce teen-agers to blow their Burger King-earned dough on your movie when there's 152,000 dog-and-pony show entries currently available for them to pick from? (Don't think too hard. Remember, you're a movie producer.) Okay, I'll tell you. You make teen-agers blow their dough on your movie by filling it with sex, violence, rock-n-roll, and sex and violence. And rock-n-roll.

No midriff should be in evidence that isn't worth baring. No mouth should be pondered that isn't pouty and kissy. Every currently available permutation of college radio fodder should chug through every scene. And, since this is supposed to be scary, maybe a hot-to-trot girl could get her neck snapped while performing oral sex on her boyfriend in the front seat of his car. It ain't "Mrs. Miniver," that's for sure.

Actors not so bad

James Marsden (who's really not such a bad actor) stars as Steve, a chiseled teen-guy whose troubled parents have just moved the family to the lovely, tree-lined village of Cradle Bay. That makes him and his younger sister the new, under-inspection kids at Cradle Bay High.

It doesn't take long before Steve strikes up a social strata discussion in the cafeteria with Gavin (Nick Stahl), one of the school's most reviled, unwanted geeks. Gavin is the knowing wise-ass character who sprays the general area with zingy torrents of bile concerning his unfriendly classmates. He also introduces Steve to the love interest, "The Ice Storm"'s Katie Holmes.

Dig that mid-riff.

All of the "loser" kids at the school talk like they're writing overheated ad copy, which should be creepy enough, but there's something else going on here. The ultimate Haves (as opposed to several underlying layers of Have-Nots) in the school pecking order are a bunch of football players, cheerleaders, and movie-hot teen babes known as the Blue Ribbons. They're the ones who make the best grades, say all the right things, and win all the awards. Okay, fair enough.

Tell us what you think of 'Disturbing Behavior.' Go to the boards!

Clean-cut weirdness

What's weird is that a lot of kids who used to be foul-mouthed stoners are cutting their hair, cleaning up, and joining the Blue Ribbons over at the Yogurt Shoppe, where they listen to Olivia Newton John singing "Have You Never Been Mellow" on the jukebox. Oh, and when they get sexually excited, they have a tendency to grow irrational and pound the object of their affections into a stupor. Intimacy, I guess, is bad for your grades.

Hmmmm. Maybe the parents are doing something to their kids that changes them into over-achieving zombies with great bods and real nice hair. Then again, maybe not maybe. Maybe exactly. That's exactly what's happening, and you know it after about 10 minutes, so why sit there and watch the movie? You haven't been paying attention, have you? Sex, violence, and rock 'n' roll, that's why!

Neat how that works, isn't it? Just keep filtering those elements back through the storyline, speed things up to a frenzy as you near the end, and another contribution to American popular culture makes its debut. It all looks nice, anyway, and there's just a modicum of silly-goose camera gymnastics. Lots of shots are held for upwards of a minute, too. I know that's not much, but if you're ambitious enough to gain sustenance from something other than nice belly-buttons, you take what you can get.

"Disturbing Behavior" contains some nudity, lots of bad language, and casual drug use. The neck breaking isn't as casual, mostly because of the loud "snap" sound on the soundtrack. Rated R. Only 85 minutes!

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