The Austin Chronicle

Disturbing Behavior

Rated R, 84 min. Directed by David Nutter. Starring James Marsden, Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl, Steve Railsback, Bruce Greenwood, William Sadler.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 24, 1998

John Hughes meets Ira Levin at Carrie's high school. Dopey, histrionic fun from The X-Files alum David Nutter and Scott Rosenberg, writer of a real horror film -- last year's Con Air. Doubtlessly green-lighted following the success of Kevin Williamson and his minions, this paranoiac slab of hormonal overload positively drips with snide asides, though it's not nearly as cohesive (or witty) as the Craven/Williamson Scream franchise. It's instead on a par with such mid-Eighties bantamweights as Dead and Buried and My Bloody Valentine (the film, not the band), poking fun at teenage angst by way of a very sharp stick in the eye, kidney, and groin. What it more accurately resembles, though, is 1974's male domination fantasy The Stepford Wives (penned by Levin), both in its attention to suburban cliquehood -- in this case high school -- and its vision of a utopian elite where all the fistfights, fracases, and fun have been replaced by good table manners and well-coifed dos. Steve Clark (Marsden) is a strapping young lad who has recently moved to the Oregonian coastal town of Cradle Bay after the suicide of his brother in Chicago. Along with his younger sister, mom, and dad, Steve struggles to adjust to his new environment, which includes Cradle Bay High School, where the choice of cliques is endearingly clich├ęd. As described by newfound stoner buddy Gavin Strick (Stahl), the school is made up of the usual shoprats, skaters, stoners, and computer geeks, but more distressing are the Blue Ribbons, a loose cabal of overachieving MENSAniacs who make up the school's jock and preppie populations. According to the slightly-out-of-it Gavin, however, these future Young Republicans, until recently, were toke-happy freakouts like himself. Until they joined the Blue Ribbons, that is. Leave it to an Atom Egoyan regular to be at the crux of small-town America's mental health problems: Greenwood (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica) is on board as school shrink Dr. Caldicott, whose radical experiments in teen-behavior modification have resulted in this cadre of hot-wired, kill-happy zombies who go in for such buoyant after-school specials as murder, rape, and grocery-store defenestrations. Only Sadler, as an equally weird school janitor with a fetish for Vonnegut, can save us now. The aptly named Nutter has a great time with all this bubble-headed trashiness, and though the script is wildly scattershot in its narrative, there's a certain charm to the film's outlandish sensibilities. This may be due in large part to the teen-dream perfection of Stahl and Holmes (Dawson's Creek), who plays white-trash bad girl Rachel, saviorette of Cradle Bay's artificially oppressed teen libidos. It's all goofily ridiculous, sure, but it's also more than a little fun, and for what it's worth, Disturbing Behavior garners an instant Drive-in Academy Award nomination for Best Use of a Pink Floyd lyric since The Wall. Take that, Molly Ringwald.

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