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Imitation, but not flattery

There's probably a way to do "Rear Window " as a seen-it-all thriller about a 17-year-old under house arrest, but "Disturbia " isn't it. The movie disdains the mounting suspense of Hitchcock's movie. The nominal thrills hit our heads like Acme anvils.

After his father dies, Kale (Shia LaBeouf ) fills with the usual movie anomie. An assault on his Spanish teacher wins him three months in an electronic ankle bracelet that keeps him within 100 feet of the enviable San Fernando Valley home his mother (Carrie-Anne Moss ) maintains. Out of boredom, he starts watching the neighbors, first with his naked eye, then through a pair of binoculars, then with his camcorder: the wife having the affair, the pre-teen boys watching porn, but especially the comely, teenage blonde next door (her family just moved in; it's that kind of movie), and the lumbering gentleman one house over.

Kale wastes no time concluding that his female neighbor -- Ashley (Sarah Roemer ) -- is hot and that his male neighbor -- Mr. Turner (David Morse ) -- is sinister. And the movie wastes no time showing us how right he is. A topless swimmer, Ashley doesn't simply disrobe for the camera -- Kale's? the movie's? -- she friskily peels her clothes off. And Mr. Turner? He just looks up to something. Morse isn't even trying for subtlety (though that tiny hoop earring is a nice, silly touch). He shows up in every scene with a glint of ax murderer in his eyes.

This year has already brought us one superb voyeurism drama in "The Lives of Others ," which, in part, was about how watching strangers can make us invisible to ourselves. It seems stupid to subject "Disturbia" to any such comparison. The notion of a boy whose life becomes one of increasingly urgent surveillance seems ripe for a moment when public trust is harder to come by. But the movie doesn't want to be smart. It wants to be a hit. And under the circumstances, the two appear to be mutually exclusive.

The filmmakers (D.J. Caruso directed, Carl Ellsworth and Christopher B. Landon wrote the screenplay) don't bother with character surprises or narrative trap doors. That said, the sequence in which Kale dispatches his antic buddy Ronnie (Aaron Yoo ) to poke around Mr. Turner's garage armed with a video camera culminates in a funny mini-satire of Asian horror.

Otherwise, the movie just punches its way toward the dumb, violent finale (alas, another killer who'd rather prattle on than murder his victims; Morse is playing a talky version of Michael Myers from the "Halloween " movies). Every piece of the story is jammed predictably into place. Kale sees the cute girl next door; the cute girl comes over. Kale sees the killer next door; the killer comes over.

"Rear Window" never comes up in the "Disturbia" press notes, which is probably just as well since it steals that movie's premise but none of Alfred Hitchcock's wit, finesse, or seduction. The new movie's similarities seem more actionable than affectionate. Roemer is summer-fling sexy in the Grace Kelly part. And Yoo is Thelma Ritter on Red Bull . The aggravating music tries to horn in on the Hitchcock act, with a score that apes Bernard Hermann's . (For what it's worth, Franz Waxman was the "Rear Window" composer.)

LaBoeuf is rangy and a suitably intense actor, capable of a hormonal rage, both emotional and sexual. He's not trying to be Jimmy Stewart, which is a relief. But that he's not makes you realize how difficult doing "Rear Window" would be in 2007. Hitchcock's movie is 53 years old, and it told the story of a kind of burgeoning American disillusionment that we're now well past. We've moved from disillusionment to entitlement. So Kale has the right to be suspicious, the way contestants feel they have the right to win "American Idol ." And the movie is aligned with him, except when it busts up all suspense and leaves his point of view to show us corroborating information he can't witness himself, as if to say: See? He's right.

Catching a murderer here isn't a moral imperative. It's a self-justification. Indeed, "Disturbia" ends with a well-placed smooch and a better-placed product, but without the faintest acknowledgment of the previous night's horrors. Those were ephemeral. But hormones and soft-drinks are forever.

Wesley Morris can be reached at For more on movies, visit



Directed by: D.J. Caruso

Written by: Carl Ellsworth and Christopher B. Landon

Starring: Shia LaBeouf , Sarah Roemer , David Morse , Carrie-Anne Moss , Aaron Yoo

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 104 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (sequences of terror and violence, and some sensuality)