Disturbing Behavior

on July 24, 1998 by Melissa Morrison
   "Disturbing Behavior" is the latest, though certainly not the greatest, in the wave of slick screaming-teen thrillers. It's notable not because it's scary (it's not) or even well-done (most of acting is stilted and its plotting ridiculous). Its contribution to this neogenre is to bypass the knife-in-the-throat stuff in favor of chillier thrills. Basically a Stepford Teens, "Disturbing Behavior" mines modern paranoia about teenagers--the drugs! the sex! the devil's music!--the way the earlier, ERA-era movie played on fears of women's new freedom by turning Stepford's suburban feminists into Phyllis Schlafly robots.
   Steve (newcomer James Marsden, whose leading-man features don't overpower his naturalness) moves to Cradle Bay, where the jocks and cheerleaders reign supreme. Nothing unusual there, except Steve's new friend, stoner Gavin (Nick Stahl, "The Man Without A Face"), thinks there's something sinister about the way perfectly normal adolescent screw-ups are suddenly transformed into SuperTeens. Sullen, kohl-eyed Rachel ("The Ice Storm's" delicious Katie Holmes) is a fellow misfit, though only by Hollywood's standards.
   The wittiest parts of "Disturbing Behavior" are Cradle Bay High's makeovers. The so-called "Blue Ribbons" wear letter sweaters, enthuse over bake sales, are disgusted by tattoos, and hang out at a yogurt shop where Olivia Newton-John's "Have You Never Been Mellow" plays on the sound system.
   If only the rest of "Disturbing Behavior" were so wickedly deviant. It could have been a hoot, the way "Scream" and "Scream 2" were, self-consciously plumbing modern audience's savvy.
   Instead, we get an overload of this type of film's now-tired hallmarks: hyper-articulate teenspeak, absurdly overdrawn characters (the buggy janitor, the fey English teacher), and the obliviousness of the rest of the high school/town to the obviously evil goings-on. Where's Katharine Ross in those creepy black contact lenses when you need her?    Starring James Marsden and Katie Holmes. Directed by David Nutter. Written by Scott Rosenberg. Produced by Armyan Bernstein and Jon Shestack. An MGM release. Thriller. Rated R for strong violence, sexuality, language and drug content. Running time: 87 min.
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