Given the current “Scream”-bred resurgence of teen horror pics, and the youth aud’s eternal identification with conformity resistance, “Disturbing Behavior” — a blatant transplant of “Stepford Wives” ideas onto adolescent torsos — counts as one savvy marketing high-concept. In other filmic SAT categories, however, it scores somewhere just above lobotomized. Brisk, slick, sloppily plotted, cliche-ridden pic won’t win many critical allies. But that shouldn’t hinder its racking up a couple of weeks’ solid theatrical biz, then tidy rental returns.
Opener is the classic invitation-to-violence setup: Two kids making out in a car, parked somewhere remote. Except this time the boy is hesitant. He carps, “I need my fluids!” for tomorrow’s football game. When arousal takes over nonetheless, junior quarterback stops his orally eager date in a most abrupt, fatal fashion. Dog-walking Gavin (Nick Stahl) witnesses this act, and the subsequent police cover-up, from a hillside perch.
Gavin is among the few “freaks” who deign to welcome newcomer Steve (James Marsden) at an otherwise wildly stratified high school in too-picture-perfect Cradle Bay. Latter’s family has moved here from Chicago after an older son’s premature death.
High school society is dominated by the Blue Ribbons — a “club” of study-grouping, cardigan-wearing, ice-cream-soda-drinking athletes and cheerleaders. These “perfect” students are considered “robots” by others, who call their penchant for ‘roid-raging outbursts “toxic jock syndrome.” Adults turn a suspiciously blind eye.
Grungy Gavin suspects some “sinister conspiracy.” Natch, he turns up one day spouting Moral Majority-type homilies, with fresh crewcut and mean streak to match. Steve and budding g.f. Rachel (Katie Holmes, from TV teen-sex serial “Dawson’s Creek”) investigate further, finding evidence that points toward school psychiatrist Dr. Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood), whose background is in neuropharmacology.
Soon the few free-thinking youths are on the run from forced Good Doobee personality warpage, aided by a “retarded” janitor (William Sadler) who’s not half so oblivious as he acts.
Bryan Forbes’ original 1975 “Stepford” film (based on Ira Levin’s novel) sneaked in sly satire of the suburban “good life” alongside its suspense, and the basic concept — of husbands who’d prefer zombie-perfect hausfraus to faintly feminist, argumentative real wives — was a paranoid fantasy with considerable, timely punch.
Update by scenarist Scott Rosenberg (“Con Air,” “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead”) is much less alert, despite frequent straining for witty dialogue or portent.
Ample potential for generation-gap seriocomedy goes untapped: The “rebellious” teens here don’t seem to be doing anything objectionable, while the parents’ incipient-fascist, science-assisted controlling is given even less definition.
As a result, pic grows more and more implausible, with no particular humor or conviction camouflaging its plot holes. Mild tension, when present at all, is tweaked mostly by reliance on amplified natural sounds and the orchestral-strike overkill of Mark Snow’s music (which owes much to the “Tubular Bells” theme in “The Exorcist”).
What “Behavior” does have is a headlong, cheerfully addlebrained forward motion. Sans opening and closing credit segs, feature would barely nudge the 75-minute mark. It’s silly and forgettable, but entertaining enough.
Juve actors, cast mostly for looks, are OK in stereotypical parts; Stahl comes closest to making a lingering impression. Adult thesps (including Steve Railsback in a nothing part as a cop) just time-clock in.
Helmer David Nutter makes his theatrical debut here, following some direct-to-vid features and numerous TV-segment assignments, notably for the “X-Files.”
Several key tech personnel have also worked on the latter serial; production was exterior-shot in Vancouver, the “X-Files’ ” home base. The gloomy atmospherics and flash-cutting of that series surface occasionally here, though to far less chilling effect than in the teledrama’s better moments.
Tech package is glossy, if undistinguished, overall. Soundtrack is filled out by the usual alt-rock bombast, abetted by odd vanilla-pop faves (Barry Manilow, Wayne Newton, Olivia Newton-John) that suggest a satirical strain “Disturbing Behavior” leaves otherwise underexplored.