A star is born?

BY NORA FELDHUSEN
Daily Arts Writer
Published April 15, 2007

Stalking gets a new, boyish face in "Disturbia," in which Shia LeBeouf ("Holes") actually gets the girl after relating to her the minute details of her daily schedule. "That's either the creepiest thing I've ever heard," she responds, "or the sweetest." A quality make-out session ensues.

Sarah Royce
It looks like an installation in the Whitney. (Courtesy of Paramount)

LeBeouf may not blow you away with his romantic gestures, but in "Distrubia," you'll enjoy watching him on screen as a recluse teenager turned neighborhood hero.

The film follows Kale (LaBeouf), who, after a devastating car wreck, flys off the handle and turns his anger against the world and Spanish teachers. His mother (Carrie-Ann Moss, "The Matrix") attempts to rehabilitate her son by canceling his iTunes and Xbox subscriptions, but once Kale becomes subject to three months' house arrest for clocking his Spanish teacher in the face, he really starts to lose it. After a few weeks of eating peanut butter out of the jar and dipping it into chocolate syrup (which, despite the audience's audible moans, is actually quite delicious), Kale finds a better way to use his time: spying on the neighbors in his quiet, nondescript suburb.

At first it's the customary husband-seduces-maid-while-wife-plays-tennis, kids-watch-porn-while-mom-cooks-dinner material until Kale stumbles upon Richard Turner (David Morse, "The Green Mile"). Turner lives in the blue house next to Kale's, mows his lawn twice a day and wines, dines and kills redheads. Or at least that's what Kale suspects. He sets out with his best friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo, "Rocket Science") and new neighborhood hottie Ashley (Sarah Roemer, "The Grudge 2") to prove his lofty accusations.

As Kale, LeBeouf exudes a hint of his "Even Stevens" goofiness, but he's almost all grown up, and his energy alone makes this mostly formulaic thriller downright fun to watch. He wisely cuts through the sentimental pretense surrounding his role and focuses his performance primarily on the plot at hand.

Unfortunately, thrillers like "Disturbia" tend to follow the same story and avoid delving too deeply into any of the characters - including the suspected killer. Who is Turner, and what's his issue? Full of coincidences and tense moments in which we are supposed to be frightened of this possible serial killer, "Disturbia" never builds a convincing case against the guy. Turner likes his privacy - he certainly doesn't appreciate Kale's spying - but is that really all that menacing?

That said, while "Disturbia" certainly doesn't break the mold of the typical thriller, it makes up what it lacks in creativity in letting LaBeouf do his thing. Whether he's wooing a girl, pulling pranks or playing vigilante from his bedroom window, his presence makes the cheap thrills more than bearable.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Disturbia

At Quality 16 and Showcase
Paramount

THE RISE OF SHIA LABEOUF

"Even Stevens" ('99-'03): The Disney sitcom is mostly typical fare, but LaBeouf turned a few heads as a loud preteen.

"Holes" ('03): Disney threw LaBeouf a bone with this stellar Louis Sachar self-adaptation. Killer lizards, gold, etc.

"Project Greenlight" ('03): The resulting movie goes nowhere, but we got to meet LaBeouf's mom. Aww.

"Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle"; "Constantine"; "I, Robot" ('03-'05): Obligatory sidekick shtick.

"A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints" ('06): Wait, this guy can act?