Movie review: 'Disconnect' takes on communication issues

MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERSMay 10, 2013 

  • DISCONNECT

    •••

    Rated: R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language, violence and drug use - some involving teens. Starring: Jason Bateman, Andrea Riseborough, Max Thierot, Paula Patton, Alexander Skarsgard. Director: Henry Alex Rubin. Running time: 115 minutes. Theater: Edwards 22 Cinemas.

We unplug our phone from the charger, pop in our ear buds and go out to seize the day. We text compulsively, post on Facebook obsessively, and when it comes time to shop, date or hook up, we log on, boot up and tune out.

That's the world we're living in and the dilemma skewered in "Disconnect," a "Crash"-style polemic told through a series of interwoven stories about teens, couples and families strained by the lack of communication in this Golden Age of Information.

It's a blunt instrument of a movie, and often melodramatic. But it sometimes moves and often hits its target square on the nose.

Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard play a broken couple, struggling with finances and grief. They lost a baby. She's seeking solace in online chat rooms, maybe more than solace. Then, their identities are stolen and they tumble into the humiliation of full disclosure about what each of them has been doing online, and the helpless financial insecurity brought on by an online predator.

Jason (Colin Ford) and Frye (Aviad Bernstein) are 15 year-old kids with a cruel streak. Their practical jokes range from urinating into beer bottles they return to convenience stores so they can watch customers vomit, to inventing a fake online girlfriend to bully a sensitive loner, Ben (Jonah Bobo).

Ben lives with digitally distracted parents (Jason Bateman and Hope Davis) and an older, phone-obsessed sister (Haley Ramm), so an online girlfriend would be a blessing. If she was real.

Jason is acting out, doing something that would freak out his cybercrimes detective dad (Frank Grillo).

And speaking of cyber-crimes, Nina (Andrea Riseborough) is an ambitious and ethically suspect TV reporter who solicits cyber-sex from a boy toy, Kyle (Max Thierot), pimped out in a house full of live teens on live sexcams. She wants a career-making story, and he's intrigued by the chance to score with "a puma," a somewhat older woman who isn't quite a "cougar." But she is touched by his creepy, digital online life.

"Don't you want something better than this?"

Loneliness runs through this cast of characters, and it's only when tragedy or near tragedy strikes that these muted, removed people start to feel and behave in recognizably human ways. The aimless, clueless kids are tech savvy but infantile in their understanding of the world. Kyle asks a peer at his teen online sex-cam house what she wants to be, and "famous" is her only answer. How to get that way? "Be on a reality show or something."

The adults are no better, lashing out with incomplete information, tuned out of each other's and their kids' lives.

Some situations in Andrew Stern's script beggar belief and the connections between characters are often melodramatic coincidences. The whole online sex thing is played to the salacious hilt. But there isn't a bad performance in "Disconnect," and some (a brittle Bateman, and Ramm, as his character's heartbroken daughter) are quite moving.

As is the movie. And the message, as heavy-handed as it is, is a winner. Go out, socialize, buy a ticket and hit the theater. Don't wait to watch on your smartphone.

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