Shamefully, neither the 1954 cinematic masterpiece Rear Window (nor the short story on which it was based) receives credit in Disturbia, a brisk, hormone-drenched remake of the seminal Alfred Hitchcock picture. As a film, Disturbia fails on the scores of credibility and originality, but since it's nearly as thrilling as it is unlikely, the picture works out to be trashy fun.
Shia LaBeouf plays Kale, a surly, teenage house-arrest inmate. Shut in for assaultive acting-out—due to an underlying emotional trauma established in a decidedly well-executed prologue—Kale does what any teenage boy would do: turn on, tune in, and drop out. Or shall we say plug in, to "trash TV," iTunes, xBox, and cell phone, chased with a Red Bull. When Mom (Carrie-Anne Moss) yanks most of the toys, Kale resorts to binoculars and his—all together now—rear window.
There, he spies a load of juicy neighborhood gossip, a high-school hottie who's just moved in next door, and, across the street, what may just be a murderer, operating right under the noses of his surburban neighbors. Kale comiserates with best bud Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) about both the neighbor girl, Ashley (Sarah Roemer), and the murder suspect, Mr. Turner (David Morse). Before long, the ankle-braceleted Kale has Ronnie and Ashley doing his dirty work in a conspiracy to produce the dirt on Turner's presumable bad deeds.
With creeptastic Morse hamming it up as Turner, Disturbia eschews mystery in favor of tension. Director D.J. Caruso (Two for the Money) largely succeeds in this vein, though once the film's climax arrives with a jolt, Disturbia begins to back-pedal into typically nonsensical thriller cliches and—for the first time in the picture—mishandled action, shot in bafflingly tight close-ups. Until then, Disturbia is a hoot, with likeable turns by the young leads (particularly La Beouf, who tempers his character's petulance with emotional truth and estimable cheek).
And, though Caruso treads very lightly through thematic terrain, Disturbia isn't devoid of subtext. Screenwriters Christopher Landon and Carl Ellsworth acknowledge the fine lines between voyeur-stalker and detective-hero and between romantic obsession and perverted obsession (Ashley tells Kale, at one point, "That's either the creepiest or the sweetest thing I ever heard").
It's an upwardly mobile trend in popular culture for the ends to justify the means (cf. 24, a staple of teen viewers), and Disturbia innately vindicates violation of privacy, as long as it gets the goods. In a bit of sly misdirection, the bad guy characterizes the world as being "in a heightened state of paranoia," and the good guys look sweatily guilty as they spy. But Ashley's moral doubt ("This is wrong") and ours is quickly forgotten once Kale's proves to be the lesser (and cuter) of two evils.
Before one boards a roller coaster and after one disembarks, the ride's shape is apparent. But when one is strapped into the car, rational thought takes a holiday. Like a roller coaster should, Disturbia moves fast and elicits both sickly gut reactions and nervous laughter. Given that its audience is clearly meant to be pre-teen and teenage, Disturbia succeeds in spades in its humble goals as a scary date movie. That said, kids, I'm begging you to rent the genuine article first—if Rear Window doesn't entertain you, check your pulse.