The first sign that "Disturbia" might be an above-average teen thrill-fest is its title. OK, so it's clear a film with such a moniker isn't aspiring to the heights of "Pan's Labyrinth" or "The Queen," but hey, it's undeniably catchier than "The Last Mimzy," isn't it?
The second sign is that the film's protagonist is played by Shia LaBeouf, a young actor who is actually young enough to still convincingly portray a teenager. LaBeouf is also appealingly nondescript, neither quarterback-handsome nor nose-tackle-tough. He is, in a word, normal.
Of course, normality can hide many secrets, as can tree-lined streets, and such is the not-exactly-earth-shattering theme of D.J. Caruso's wonderfully fun "Disturbia."
LaBeouf plays Kale -- that's a great, unrealistic movie character name -- whose upset following the death of his father leads to a foolish sucker-punch in school. The act leads to court-ordered house arrest, and, predictably, he soon turns his gaze to the oddities of the 'hood. Of course, one of the first sights is a comely female, played by the lovely Sarah Roemer, who takes a daily bikini-clad swim. What are the odds? There are also cheating spouses and horny youngsters.
Did I mention yet that "Disturbia" is basically a techno-geek, teen-driven remake of Alfred Hitchock's "Rear Window"? And that is not a bad thing. The filmmakers have apparently declined to dub the film a true remake, but the commercials and trailers make no attempt at hiding the fact that "Disturbia" is Hitchcock meets YouTube.
One of the brightest moves was the casting of David Morse as the bearish, creepy neighbor who just might be a serial killer, aka the Raymond Burr role. While I'd love to see what a filmmaker like Martin Scorsese or David Cronenberg could do with Morse's stare, the actor is clearly enjoying himself in this one. LaBeouf got his start on a Disney Channel sitcom, but he has grown into an appealing, bright young actor who is able to simultaneously pull off Kale's anger, remorse and intelligence. Aaron Yoo is a treat as Kale's best friend; Carrie-Ann Moss looks stressed and tired as his mother; and Roemer makes a cliched character seem fresh.
The film never hits "Blue Velvet" levels of suburban, blood-splattered-white-picket-fence profundity, but that's asking for too much from a PG-13 thriller. Its characters are quirky and likable, its villain sinister, its love interest appropriately nubile and its shocks perfectly timed. The last 20 minutes, especially, are surprisingly eerie and seem to channel the spirits of both "The Shining" and "The Silence of the Lambs." (You'll see what I mean.)
"Disturbia" represents something of a rebound for director Caruso, whose first feature, "The Salton Sea" -- an ugly but fascinating Val Kilmer vehicle -- showed some real promise. This led to the ho-hum "Taking Lives" and the horrendous "Two for the Money." It actually brings back memories of that strange stretch of teen films inspired by great literature: "Clueless," "Ten Things I Hate About You," "O."
Could "Disturbia" inspire a new trend in teen cinema? How about a tween "Vertigo"? A toddler "Touch of Evil"? A prepubescent "Persona"?
Whatever it spawns, Hitchcock has no reason to be turning over in his grave this time. "Disturbia" is a blast of 21st century paranoia -- funny, creepy and clever -- and should go down as one of spring's most pleasant cinematic surprises.
3 stars (out of 4)
STARRING: Shia LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer, Carrie-Ann Moss and David Morse
DIRECTOR: D.J. Caruso
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
RATING: PG-13 for terror, violence and some sensuality.
THE LOWDOWN: A teenager and his friends believe his neighbor could be a serial killer.