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Film review

With these two, it's better to be dumb

Entertaining Disturbia hides nothing. Too bad Perfect Stranger doesn't follow suit.

By Steve Persall
Published April 12, 2007


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Two thrillers open in theaters Friday, but only one comes close to being a thrill.

Disturbia telegraphs everything from the get-go, yet entertains; Perfect Stranger flings red herrings like a fishmonger before the ludicrous truth comes out.

I'd rather see a movie like Disturbia that says, "Okay, you're smart, so just sit back and enjoy something dumb," rather than a dumb movie pretending to be smarter than it is.

That's what Perfect Stranger does. Halle Berry stars as tabloid reporter Rowena Price, whose unethical methods immediately proclaim the movie can't be trusted. Conversations clumsily summarize juicy past events that won't make much difference later. Actors work overtime appearing guilty when they aren't, or not guilty if they are.

Rowena's childhood friend Grace Nicki Aycox reveals her affair with married advertising executive Harrison Hill (Bruce Willis). Then she winds up in the morgue. Tracing her e-mails for clues about the murder involves lots of Web chats and computer hacking, always boring on screen.

Harrison had motives to kill, of course, but so may a number of other characters. Director James Foley insists upon detailing each one. Maybe he hopes that if he throws in a couple of sexy scenes to distract them, folks won't notice how many furtive glances and suspicious acts don't matter.

Perfect Stranger doesn't know when to stop piling up bull hockey, resulting in the most preposterous, over-explained mystery solution in memory. I'd love to spoil it to save you money, but I won't. You also deserve the impulse to grab Foley's lapels, shake him and say: "Keep it simple, stupid."

Roll over, Hitchcock

Meanwhile, Disturbia succeeds to a certain extent because director D.J. Caruso keeps things simple and stupid.

The issue at hand is identical to Perfect Stranger's: Is the guy toward whom all evidence points truly a killer? Casting practically answers that question: David Morse is a dependable portrayer of guilt. We catch his character in the act and see through his alibis, yet Disturbia maintains tension that Foley's movie never achieves.

Morse plays Mr. Turner, the intimidating next-door neighbor to Kale (Shia LaBeouf) and his widowed mother (Carrie-Anne Moss). Kale is serving six months of house arrest; an electronic sensor is attached to his ankle to ensure he stays put. Boredom leaves Kale watching trash TV and snooping on his neighborhood with a battery of spy gadgets.

One surveillance leads Kale to think Mr. Turner may be the suspect in the cases of several missing women. Gathering proof is easier than convincing anyone over 18.

LaBeouf does a decent job of keeping Kale credible through his rising suspicion, his lust for his new neighbor (Sarah Rohmer) and his scramble to be his mom's savior. His buddy Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) adds comic relief, lulling viewers into a tense sequence with Blair Witch Project undertones and a surprising kicker.

Before anyone wails about Disturbia being a Rear Window rip-off, be assured that it is, and makes no bones about it. Caruso massages Alfred Hitchcock's voyeurism theme into something modern, if not airtight. Hitch wouldn't resort to the final reel's violent chase mechanics, but he might appreciate the effort expended getting there.

Steve Persall can be reached at (727) 893-8365 or persall@sptimes.com.

Review

Disturbia

Grade: B-

Director: D.J. Caruso

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer, David Morse, Carrie-Anne Moss, Aaron Yoo, Jose Pablo Cantrillo

Screenplay: Christopher B. Landon, Carl Ellsworth

Rating: PG-13; violence, terror, sensuality, profanity

Running time: 105 min.

 

Perfect Stranger

Grade: D

Director: James Foley

Cast: Halle Berry, Bruce Willis, Giovanni Ribisi, Gary Dourdan, Richard Portnow

Screenplay: Todd Komarnicki

Rating: R; sexual situations, profanity, corpse nudity, brief violence

Running time: 108 min.

[Last modified April 11, 2007, 12:48:56]


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