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Disturbing Behavior

MGM Home Video

Starring Starring Katie Holmes and Jimmy Marsden

Written by Scott Rosenberg
Directed by David Nutter

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The most disturbing thing about the behavior of teenagers in Cradle Bay is how eager the popular kids are to make new friends. Unlike how most of us remember high school, the clean cut "Blue Ribbons" of CBHS are much too energetic about recruiting outsiders into their clique. Imagine: the snobby sort of club which naturally prides itself on economic and/or aesthetic exclusivity embarking on an aggressive — even violent — program of outreach and recruitment. No wonder the other kids at school think something malevolent is going on.

In truth, the young people of this sleepy, secluded community are indeed the subject of an insidious plot by, yes, a maniacal scientist who intends to modulate the behavior of wayward teens via a chip implanted in their brains. If this sounds like a spoiler, it is in detail only, for the makers of this sloppy, underachieving thriller tip their hands way too early to build any real suspense or paranoia.

In the very first scene of Disturbing Behavior a Cradle Bay stoner witnesses the double-murder of a classmate and a policeman by a Blue Ribbon, as well as the subsequent cover-up by a second, complicitous cop, so right off the bat there's no question that the town is in the grip of a sinister conspiracy by selected teens and adults alike. All that is left for 80 minutes is to discover why — and if our heroes survive, which they always do. Steve (Jimmy Marsden) is the new kid in the British Columbia-like Cradle Bay, his family uprooted from Chicago following the trauma of his older brother's suicide. Steve's parents assure both him and his younger sister that everything will be perfect in their new hometown. Too perfect, Steve gathers after just a few minutes. While most of the Cradle Bay Badgers sink into the background as your average mosaic of high school student types, the Blue Ribbons stand out. This preppie cult stalks the halls like TAG robots in blue lettermen jackets, while spending their evenings wholesomely gathered at the yogurt shop. They gradually swallow students from other social circles into their homogenous fold.

Steve teams up with the small group of greasy-haired, cynical outcasts most wary of (and most unlike) the Blue Ribbons, and when one of their clan (the annoying Nick Stahl) suddenly joins the zombiesque ranks, he and Rachel (Katie Holmes from TV's Dawson's Creek) must dive deep into the murky workings of Cradle Bay to save themselves and Steve's sister.

Disturbing Behavior's best moments are when it references far-superior films, such as Children of the Damned and A Clockwork Orange, and it's not hard to realize how effective the movie could have been if approached with a little care and craft. Instead, it is a thriller with no suspense, and though it presumes to provide an arch-dissection of high school social mores (with a sci-fi twist), Disturbing Behavior only reinforces the stale counter-culture notion that straight kids are bad, and it is only the kids who break the rules that set themselves apart from the mindless flock that are worthy of our admiration. It's a pity then that Steve's slacker cronies are also so uninspired as to be cut from the same pasty mold: they're like the ironic undead, armed with a slang thesaurus.

Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg, whose smart and poignant Beautiful Girls was one of the nicest surprises of 1996, merely dresses his undeveloped high concept in hopeless catch-phrases. "Sounds razor," Holmes says, instead of, apparently, "Sounds cool." Another student is charged with "a momentary lapse of treason." How savvy.

Director David Nutter fails to rise above his career in bad television and add any distinguishing touches to this Bizarro-Pleasantville. He even lets a promising, seemingly major plot complication evaporate into thin air. In a few key scenes, the brainwashed teens react violently when their powerful hormones conflict with their mind control, but this idea never comes to effect or consequence.

Also, much of the acting is bad. Holmes' rising star looks heavily sedated, and the movie's standout performance, by William Sadlin as a dubiously retarded janitor-turned-pied piper, is only notable for its overwrought wretchedness. Nevertheless, this is probably a very popular film amongst 14-year-olds.

The visual and audio presentation is high quality, barring content. The disc features both pan-and-scan and 1.85 widescreen versions, 5.1 Dolby Digital, and a 2.0 Dolby track in French. Plentiful extras include a commentary track by Nutter, the music video of "Got You (Where I Want You)" by The Flys, and 11 deleted scenes, most of which are inexplicably better than anything in the final cut. Devotees of Holmes might be interested in the love scene that didn't make it to the big screen, but will be invariably disappointed by the lack of nudity. One of the deleted scenes is billed as a "shocking and revealing alternate ending," but is almost as tepid as the formula twist tacked on for theatrical release. A four-page booklet promises insights from the film's young stars. Now that's disturbing!

— Gregory P. Dorr

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