Friday, October 30, 2009

Disturbing Behavior (USA, 1998)

(Spoilers.) Back in 1998, in-between all the TV directorial jobs that pay the rent, director David Nutter brought out this teenage riff of The Stepford Wives (1975 / trailer), his first non-television job since his direct-to-DVD double Trancers 4: Jack of Swords (trailer) and Trancers 5: Sudden Deth (trailer) in 1994. And while Disturbing Behavior is hardly the most intelligent of films, it is at least too well made to be truly terrible, even if the story itself – from Scott Rosenberg, who also penned such great films (Not!) as Con Air (1997 / trailer), Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000 / trailer) and Kangaroo Jack (2003 / trailer) – not only relies too much on both a MacGuffin and deus ex machine, but would flat out sink in seconds if it were a boat. That aside, it does perfectly reflect true teenage paranoia: parents aren't just un-hip or a drag in this film, when they drop their two-faced smile they reveal themselves evil, unloving entities that are seemingly willing at the drop of a hat to have their mildly troublesome teens turned into robotic, academically perfect preppies (the “Blue Ribbons") with a tendency for explosive violence. Worse, authority figures such as the police are even willing to suppress double murders to ensure that the football game the next day isn't lost…
It is that double murder that opens the film: as secretly witnessed one night by stoner Gavin Strick (Nick Stahl of Terminator III [2003 / trailer]), Blue Ribbon Andy Efkin (Tobias Mehler) kills a Goth when she tries to suck out his "vital fluids" and then a cop, but Officer Cox (Steve Railsback) covers it all up – despite the fact that Andy also kills his partner. Gavin later makes friends with the newly arrived clean-cut but slightly troubled Allen Clark (James Marsden) when he and family move to the island community of Cradle Bay after his brother kills himself. (In all truth, what little one gets of his family, it seems more as if his parents are the troubled ones, not he.) Allen goes all gushy over Rachel (an eternally unconvincing but bonkable Katie Holmes), but by rejecting the friendship of the Blue Ribbons basically seals his doom – but not before Gavin's parents trade their son in for a Young Republican model.
Realizing that Gavin's prior paranoia was more than just pot-induced, and after a surreal interaction with Blue Ribbon Lorna Longley (Crystal Cass) who freaks out when giving in to her baser carnal instincts – "Bad wrong, wrong bad, bad wrong, wrong bad," she says as she bangs her head against a mirror – Allen and Rachel decide to find out what exactly the school doctor Dr. Edgar Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood) is doing to the kids. This involves a totally out of place interlude in which they visit an insane asylum for an extended scene that seems first-and-foremost to come from another film. Back on the island, the two are promptly hauled in for the special treatment, but thanks to a well-stolen scalpel Allen and Rachel can escape. But Dr. Caldicott and the Blue Ribbons are out to stop them, and do – but then, just in time, the film's obvious deus ex machine, the Kurt-Vonnegut-reading and rat-hating school janitor Dorian Newberry (William Sadler), shows up with his MacGuffin and saves the day.
The German version of Disturbing Behavior ends with Gavin walking into an inner-city classroom as the new teacher, ready to re-enslave minority America.
As already mentioned, Disturbing Behavior is far from a good film, it is merely a well-made film. The mini-social studies course Gavin gives in the school lunchroom is nifty, and Rachel proves to be a babe who can well hold her own, but the story as a whole is undercooked, much like the characterization of every adult in the movie. (Unlike many of the kids, who do actually exude character, all the adults in the film are there simply to serve the function of continuing the plot; none of their actions or decisions are ever given enough background to really be understandable. But then, seeing that the film is very much aimed at the alienated teen, the adults probably reflect how they are viewed by kids in real life.) Disturbing Behavior is an acceptable time waster and a passable version of The Stepford Wives – much better in any event than the 1987 made-for-TV movie The Stepford Children – but there are really so many other, better films out there that it is, in the end, hard to recommend.

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