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DISTURBING BEHAVIOR

by: Scott Renshaw

A message to all you aspiring screenwriters:  know your genre. Don't misunderstand, I'm not suggesting a writer should limit him or herself to only one genre, or that film script formulas couldn't stand a little innovation.  However, there are good reasons why you shouldn't write a farce the same way you write a biographical drama.  It's about pacing, about knowing your audience, about delivering the emotions the genre promises to deliver.  Scott Rosenberg has made a decent career for himself writing primarily comedies (BEAUTIFUL GIRLS) and action films (CON AIR, uncredited contribution to ARMAGEDDON).  His chosen style is arch dialogue and lots of it, which works out just fine when you're writing a comedy or an action film.  A dark thriller is another cinematic beastie entirely.  In the case of Disturbing Behavior, that critter is a great big turkey.

It didn't necessarily have to be so foul a fowl.  The premise is a 45 degree spin on Ira Levin's THE STEPFORD WIVES, the tale of a troubled teen named Steve Clark (James Marsden) trying to adjust to his new home of Cradle Bay, Washington after a family tragedy.  But there's something strange going on among the teens of Cradle Bay, something stoner Gavin Strick (Nick Stahl) tries to warn Steve about: a group of frighteningly civic-minded students called the Blue Ribbons.  You see, when they're not holding bake sales, they're breaking the necks of their girlfriends and recruiting other students into a state of lobotomized pleasantness.

It's a nifty idea to create a creepshow out of the recognition that a teenager who's acting "normal" probably isn't.  Disturbing Behavior, however, isn't really a creepshow.  Instead, it's a frantic and unfocused teen-sploitation in which the re-programmed adolescents get violent when they get horny, which, being teenagers, they do with some regularity. "X-Files" and "Millennium" veteran David Nutter drags out plenty of familiar tricks (point-of-view camera tricks, bobbing flashlights in the woods, even a score by Mark Snow), but his efforts to create mood can't get past who-cares characterizations and unexplained motivations.  There's nothing frightening about the mastermind behind the plot, since he's just another one of the malicious or oblivious adults who populate films of this kind.  The notable exception is the wacky janitor (William Sadler) who hangs out in the high school basement killing rats.  Score one for the parents of Cradle Bay for being more concerned with rebellious attire than with a rodent-obsessed lunatic working in their children's school.

Ultimately, Disturbing Behavior crashes on the failure of Rosenberg's script.  Leave aside for a moment the perfunctory romantic interest (Katie Holmes), the forced dialogue like "Self-mutilate this, Fluid Boy," or the pointless extended riff in which Gavin hips Steve to the startling revelation that -- gasp! -- high school students form cliques.  DISTURBING BEHAVIOR is simply a miserable thriller, because Rosenberg rarely bothers to build any tension into his scenes.  Sure, he has people jump out to go booga-booga every once in a while.  That doesn't add up to a second of genuine suspense, even when our heroes find themselves the next candidates for CLOCKWORK ORANGE style "treatment."  The film merely tears along from start to finish in a brisk 80 minutes, and when it's all said and done the only thing you'll remember is how ridiculous it all is.

Disturbing Behavior isn't a lousy thriller because it tries to be funny.  "The X-Files" has successfully paired satire and scares, as have the two SCREAM films.  It helps, however, if the humor supports character development, or perhaps elicits a laugh once in a while (all right, the Blue Ribbons' Olivia Newton-John-playing yogurt shop hangout is worth a chuckle).  No, Disturbing Behavior is a lousy thriller because it never tries to be thrilling.  It

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