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Friday, April 19, 2013

Disconnect Movie Review

Technology is the villain in "Disconnect," a heavy-handed ensemble drama that exposes the flaws of the digital age. Problems like cyber-bullying, identity theft and webcam sex trades are all on display in the latest movie from Henry Alex Rubin, who previously directed the uplifting documentary "Murderball". This film, though, is anything but optimistic -- or understated, for that matter.

It's similar to "Crash", with the ominous one-word title, the separate storylines, and the moral sledgehammer. "Crash" is more powerful, but "Disconnect" has its moments, mostly in the bully storyline. Ben (Jonah Bobo) is a 15-year-old outcast at school, reduced to cafeteria-style isolation and a lack of friends. He is really into music and a girl from another school who contacted him on Facebook after hearing one of his tunes. They share secrets, flirtations, and suggestive pictures. The trouble is that she doesn't exist; Ben is the target of a cruel prank from two male classmates who take it upon themselves to humiliate him. The result is disastrous.

There's another technology-is-bad story including 18-year-old Kyle ("Bates Motel's" Max Thieriot) who masturbates online for a living, and an ambitious TV reporter (Andrea Riseborough) looking to turn it into a big news item. (There's a house full of these internet gigolos.) It's most interesting when they start sharing an inappropriate chemistry. Also a grieving mother (Paula Patton) goes to an online forum for support over her deceased son, as her husband ("True Blood's" Alexander Skarsgard) is absorbed with gambling and not coping, and they wind up with an identity theft problem. They're running out of money and the police department sure isn't helping to pin down the source.

It's clear from the title that "Disconnect" is about people with a failure to communicate amid social media sites, immoral web activities and a general sense of apathy. Just about the only thing it doesn't include is a texting-while-driving segment where someone smashes into a tree. (That story would have fit right in.) It's a real pound-it-home message, but the acting and sometimes-effective moments in Andrew Stern's script keep it alive. It is nice to see Jason Bateman take on a dramatic role for a change, as the bullied kid's father, but Hope Davis isn't given as much to do as the mother. Bobo is the main one to watch here, giving a strong performance as a young man about to crack.

While "Disconnect" falls way shy of ensemble dramas by Robert Altman ("Short Cuts") or Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights"), it is more interesting than many of the other films out in theaters this time of year. Take that as you will.

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