It's good teen fun

July 24, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Beware of kids who are the stuff of their parents' dreams, the jocks with the perfect haircuts, the cheerleaders, the wholesome teens whose idea of a hangout is the neighborhood yogurt shop. They're evil. E-VIL.

At least they are in "Disturbing Behavior," first-time director David Nutter's pastiche of "The Stepford Wives" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," a pedigree that results in a tempestuous, if hopelessly derivative, thriller.

Steve Clark (James Marsden) has been brought from Chicago to the quiet town of Cradle Bay by his parents, who fear he has yet to recover from the suicide of his older brother. Within hours, he's befriended by Gavin (Nick Stahl), a dope-smoking outsider who offers a quick tour of the school's cliques (a dead-on monologue on high-school dynamics, courtesy of screenwriter Scott Rosenberg).

Most dangerous are the Blue Ribbons, a group of clean-cut dudes who walk around in letter sweaters, cheerleader-types on their arms, and delight in beating the heck out of misfits like Gavin.

At first blush, good-looking Steve would seem more at home with the Blue Ribbons, but he casts his lot elsewhere. For one thing, Steve seriously misses his brother, who lived decidedly outside the line. And Gavin is good friends with the beautiful Rachel (Katie Holmes), who's just the kinda bad girl Steve could fall for.

While Steve is perfectly ready to accept that the Blue Ribbons are a bunch of jerks, Gavin insists it's worse than that. There's something nefarious going on in Cradle Bay, something that explains why sexual urges make the Blue Ribbons act like they've fried their circuits, and why the presence of school psychologist Dr. Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood) makes Gavin's hair stand on end.

Nutter and Rosenberg have great fun in trashing the idea that teens should behave like perfect little drones (how "Clockwork Orange" of them), and there's subversive pleasure in scenes where the Blue Ribbons come across as something out of George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead."

Like I said, "Disturbing Behavior" is hopelessly derivative, but at least the filmmakers stuck with good source material.

'Disturbing Behavior'

Directed by David Nutter

Starring James Marsden, Katie Holmes and Nick Stahl

Rated R (violence, sexuality, language, drug content)

Released by MGM

Running time 83 minutes

Sun score ** 1/2

Pub Date: 7/24/98

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