Friday July 24, 1998
Movies like David Nutter's "Disturbing Behavior," written by Scott Rosenberg, the author of last summer's worst movie, "Con Air," are the reason valet parking attendants in Beverly Hills leave scripts on the seats. They give hope.
Conceived as an upside-down "Clockwork Orange," this howler of a horror movie is set in the picture-book Northwest town of Cradle Bay, where the high school is infested with a growing crowd of Stepford jocks and pom-pom girls with severe superiority complexes. Sounds like Any School, U.S.A., if you ask me.
But these kids are different. They're former thugs and sluts and otherwise problem teens who have emerged transformed from the motivational Blue Ribbon workshop of Dr. Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood), a neuro-pharmacist who's devised a behavioral modification program combining simple brainwashing techniques with cybernetics. He plants microprocessors in the kids' brains that makes them dress well, study hard, hold bake sales and avoid heavy petting.
For parents looking for results, this is even better than getting their children hooked on phonics.
Of course, with any new scientific breakthrough, there's resistance, mostly from rebellious students hooked on free will, and there is one nagging side effect. If the Blue Ribbon kids are sexually aroused, their pineal glands are overstimulated, and their dopamine skyrockets, short-circuiting their implants and causing psychotic outbursts. Tempting one of them is like feeding a gremlin after midnight.
We see this phenomenon demonstrated in the opening scene, on lover's lane, where a reluctant Caldicott jock ("I have to save my body fluids for the game") is being overwhelmed by his concupiscent girlfriend. When his dopamine kicks in, a yellow beam appears in his suddenly dead eyes, his nostrils flare, his brow is furled, and he completely loses his manners, cracking the girl's head like a walnut.
Moments later, he kills a cop who happens by, and is then calmed and sent on his way by the dead cop's curiously unruffled partner (Steve Railsback). Enter Steve (James Marsden), Gavin (Nick Stahl) and Rachel ("Dawson Creek's" Katie Holmes), Cradle Bay's version of the heroes of "Rebel Without a Cause." Steve is the James Dean character, a handsome newcomer from a dysfunctional family, Rachel has the sweet bad girl role played by Natalie Wood, and Gavin, an eyewitness at the opening murder scene, is a smarter, more confident rendition of Sal Mineo's ill-fated Plato.
Together, the rebels will take on the Blue Ribbon menace, Dr. Caldicott, parental complicity and, with the help of their own Boo Radley, a high school janitor (William Sadler) with simultaneous rat and Kurt Vonnegut fixations, attempt to make Cradle Bay safe once again for making out.
Nutter, an "X-Files" TV show veteran making his feature directing debut, demonstrates a talent only for mimicry. Stylistically, "Disturbing Behavior" is indistinguishable from the hordes of past B-horror movies. And Rosenberg's script is a veritable anthology of genre cliches.
"This might not be such a good idea," Rachel says, as she and Steve break into an asylum populated by the mutant human debris of past Caldicott experiments. You can laugh--or cry.
Disturbing Behavior, 1998. R for strong violence, sexuality, language and drug content. Times guideline: It's too silly to be frightening. A Beacon Communications production, released by MGM. Director David Nutter. Producers Armyan Bernstein, John Shestack. Script Scott Rosenberg. Cinematography John S. Bartley. Editor Randy Jon Morgan. Music Mark Snow. Production design Nelson Coates. Art direction Eric Fraser. Set decorator Louise Roper. Costumes Trish Keating. Running time: one hour, 27 minutes. James Marsden as Steve Clark. Katie Holmes as Rachel Wagner. Nick Stahl as Gavin Strick. Steve Railsback as Officer Cox. Bruce Greenwood as Dr. Caldicott.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times