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Disturbia

Mark Palermo is shakenand stirred.

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"You're a writer. You work from home," Kale (Shia LaBeouf) tells his father when he says that fishing beats working. Because working from home sometimes feels like being under house arrest, that's a sly exchange to begin a movie about a kid sentenced to not leave his house for three months.

The set-up allows Disturbia to assume the role of a teenage Rear Window. This mesh of sensibilities only sounds inspired since Disturbia's "something's wrong with the neighbour" spy games now just feel like The 'Burbs and Monster House recycled.

A tragic accident that kills Kale's father is staged by director DJ Caruso with a brutality so unexpected you may wonder what's next. But from there, it's mostly star LaBeouf that gives the film its worth. His sudden popularity is due to his ability to portray a regular kid, not popular but not a loser either.

There's an adolescent sincerity in the scene where he walks his crush (Sarah Roemer) to the end of his driveway (an ankle bracelet will alarm the police if he goes further), speaking confidently to her but moving his fingers at his side as though he's unsure how to pose his hands. He brings Disturbia credibility, and is its only consistent life force.

The familiar crutch of portraying the suburbs as a facade for peoples' twisted lives is expressed as Kale begins suspecting the man in the house across from his bedroom window is a killer. Except Kale's bedroom view isn't set up with the distinctive points of interest that gave Rear Window its fun geography. The cop-out of attributing this kind of neighbourly fear to suburbia can't disguise that Caruso's movie suffers its own xenophobia.

The YouTube reference at the end isn't funny, it's just the movie claiming pop currency. Kale's adventure needs to transform him, or Disturbia isn't about anything. It hasn't the openness to find a perspective on teenage life.

In the Land of Women

The "young man's post-traumatic discovery of life's value through quirky people" tale is an obscure genre that's attracted Zach Braff, Cameron Crowe and Jon Kasdan. In the Land of Women follows the lineage of Garden State and Elizabethtown—an indie rock-drenched, white bread reminder that there's no manual for how your life should be lived. It's a defeatingly normal approach for a transgressive message, but director Kasdan (son of Lawrence) sells disaffected cliches as lived-in experience.

The hero, Carter Webb (Adam Brody), is a creation of a filmmaker wanting to prove that he had an eccentric childhood. Carter resents not having a typical American high school experience, works as a TV writer and has just been dumped by his famous girlfriend. Needing to get away, he visits his grandmother (Olympia Dukakis), hoping he'll be able to write a book he's been agonizing over starting for a decade. The Detroit suburb becomes a haven under cinematographer Paul Cameron (Collateral). Carter befriends neighbour Sarah (Meg Ryan) and her two daughters. They all fall for him. The movie becomes about platonic male/female infatuation.

In the Land of Women wants to celebrate Carter as the rare guy who can be friends with women without wanting sex, but the effect is more patronizing: He's the big city kid who saves the suburban people with his wisdom and sensitivity. Sarah greets him with, "You look good. Better than yesterday." That backhanded compliment captures the movie's annoying preciousness, but also what it does well. Kasdan locates virtue in unorthodox human connection.

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Send wisdom and sensitivity. Write: palermo@thecoast.ca

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