"Disconnect" is "Crash" for the age of social media.
Unfortunately, the "Crash" I mean is the 2005 all-star ensemble about racial interconnection in Los Angeles that won the Academy Award for Best Picture, not the 1996 David Cronenberg movie about weirdos having sex in wrecked cars.
If a movie could have facial features, "Disconnect" would wear a furrowed brow and earnest, worried eyes. The title is both noun and verb, recommendation and summation.
Writer Andrew Stern and debuting narrative feature director Henry Alex Rubin (known for the documentary "Murderball") want us to contemplate the disconnect between parents and children, between husbands and wives, between true love and "virtual" relationships, between reality and conspiracy that can result from an obsession with the Internet.
They want us to disconnect from our screens, at least momentarily, and connect to nature and one another. (And to their movie, available soon as a Netflix streaming or video-on-demand option.)
"Disconnect" sketches and eventually connects several 21st century feel-bad minidramas dealing with such subjects as sexcams, Internet bullying, chat room seduction and identity theft. It's a mosaic portrait of the minefield of cyber-connected modern life that may make you long for the lonely wide-open spaces of a cowboy movie. And it is shot in a trendy and annoying style, with handheld camera work and frequent mid-shot lens adjustments, as if it were a documentary rather than a fiction film in which the director actually knows where the characters will be and what they will do.
Alexander Skarsgaard and Paula Patton are a husband and wife who discover their savings has been stolen by an online thief. Max Thieriot is an online sex-service "model" who provides a hot story for TV reporter Andrea Riseborough. Jonah Bobo is a sensitive high-school student who falls for the "sexting" of a fake female identity concocted by a couple of mean pranksters. Frank Grillo is the "cyber detective" who investigates "computer crimes." And so on. The depressing result feels like torture porn of the soul.
The actors are credible, even if the characters' actions sometimes aren't. Particularly moving is the online relationship that develops, incognito, between a high-school cyber bully (Colin Ford) and his victim, as well as the victim's dad (Jason Bateman). The characters surprise themselves here; thus, the audience is surprised, too.
Most other subplots proceed along more or less predictably portentous lines, as when the reporter realizes she's exploiting the teen sexcam performer, too -- just like his customers do! Near the end of the film, as each subplot reaches a climax, Rubin slows the film down to a crawl and cuts among all his characters in a montage of dramatic but almost frozen violence; it's the movie equivalent of being shaken by the shoulders by a scold who wants to make sure you get the point.
The film is dedicated to the great movie critic Andrew Sarris, who preferred the thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock to the message movies of Stanley Kramer. I think I hear a voice from beyond saying, "thanks, but no thanks."
"Disconnect" is exclusively at Malco's Studio on the Square.
(c)2013 The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tenn.)
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