Remake This!

You've seen everything in 'Disturbia' before, but it's all worth seeing again

It's been suggested that there are too many remakes in Hollywood, and not enough original ideas.

Ridiculous. Ideas are made to be recycled. Do you think that Thomas Malory thought, "I'd best not do another King Arthur remake. Instead, I'll publish my original novel, Sir Twiddlegums and the Mumsy Beast, and thusly make my place in literary history"? No, of course not. Back in the Middle Ages, people did remakes with impunity, and if you didn't like it, you could suck halberd.

But nowadays, it's oh-so-modern to complain about remakes. How many critics have you heard saying, "But Big Momma's House is just The Pajama Game with cross-dressing," or "Harry Potter is nothing but an adolescent, magical rip-off of Kramer vs. Kramer"? Too many, that's how many.

So I was pleased to see that Disturbia, which has a cool title and tons of Shia LaBeoufness, was based loosely on Rear Window. I was even more pleased that the film never once openly acknowledged this. I mean, it's not like Le Morte d'Arthur begins with the disclaimer, "based on the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth." Screw Geoffrey of Monmouth! And screw Alfred Hitchcock! The work has to stand or fall on its own merits.

And Disturbia pretty much stands. LaBeouf plays Kale Brecht, an angry teen who gets sentenced to three months of house arrest after he punches his Spanish teacher in the face. Now, to be fair, the Spanish teacher is a full-grown man, and LaBeouf looks like the skinny kid with the excessive masturbation problem who'll grow up to own a software company and have sex with supermodels, which is cool even if he has to explicitly pay them.

So the Spanish teacher should have just taken the punch without whining to the cops about it. This is my one objection to the film: It propagates the whole "take your troubles to the law" thing, which has completely eroded our Western spirit of revenge.

But anyway, young Kale Brecht then gets one of those ankle bracelets that beep if you leave your property (and basing a film on this is also not an original idea ... I think the first movie I saw using this device was Cherish in 2002, but there's probably many more). Soon, the boredom of confinement turns him into a suburban voyeur, and he starts to notice that his neighbor (David Morse) seems like the kind of guy who'd have a basement graveyard.

Then Kale falls in love (a plot device clearly stolen from Romeo and Juliet), and his best friend (a character type clearly derived from the 1989 classic Turner and Hooch) and his girlfriend all start stalking the neighbor.

Then there are lots of police and cool rock posters and some vague literary references (Kale's father was a writer, just like in the movie The Squid and the Whale) and people hitting each other with both sharp and blunt instruments.

The thing about doing an unoriginal film (and while you're all praising originality, remember that Hitler originated Nazism!!!) is that you have to follow through with precision on the conventions of your genre, because there's not going to be any bonus points awarded for novelty.

And here, everything works without getting all uppity and arty. The leads have essentially two functions: act like teens, and look pretty while doing it. LaBeouf, Sarah Roemer (as his girlfriend, Ashley) and Aaron Yoo (as his best friend, Ronnie) are all pretty and young-looking enough to pull this off. They're far more convincing teens than anyone on The O.C. , and in spite of the fact that their characters are a little thin (Yoo plays the Asian stoner/surfer kid that films like The Perfect Score and Harold and Kumar have championed as the official cinematic replacement for the Asian math nerd), they have more than enough depth to get them through a thriller.

Morse is also great, but he's always great. I kind of feel bad that he's stuck in B-movies like this, but at least he's working and not homeless, like Chevy Chase and Walter Mondale.

Cinematographer Rogier Stoffers is put to good use as well: In place of Rear Window's back-alley set, he works in 360 degrees of suburban naughtiness, neatly capturing kids watching porn, neighborly love of the heterosexual sort and the ever-popular blood-spattered-window sequence. It's kind of like being in Disneyland with a bunch of horny mass-murderers, which I guess is kind of like being in Disneyland, period.

So, as far as movies that come out in the spring go (and they usually go poorly, and then are forgotten, just like everyone forgets that we won the war in Iraq in May 2003), Disturbia is pretty decent. It's got thrills, almost impeccable pacing (I counted at most eight extraneous minutes in the whole film) and hot teens. Sure, you may have seen all that before in Bonnie and Clyde or Impeccably Thrilling Teens Part 23, but at least Disturbia does it with a kind of workmanlike precision that delivers exactly what it promises.

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