'Disconnect' lectures, rather than entertains
What's that? You say you already knew about these things, perhaps even use them yourself? Well, now, that could be a serious impediment to believing in this movie, which delivers its earnest warnings in overlapping, "Crash"-like stories.
We begin with a TV reporter (up-and-coming somebody Andrea Riseborough, also on view in "Oblivion" this week) making contact with a runaway teenager (Max Thieriot) who works for an online sex operation. The reporter grows too close to her story, and gets drunk on the fantasy of how much attention she'll get from the networks from this.
There's also a distractingly handsome young couple (Paula Patton, Alexander Skarsgard), their finances messed up by an online identity thief, who decide to take vigilante action against a possible suspect in the case.
And we meet a preoccupied lawyer (Jason Bateman) whose neglected son (Jonah Bobo) is getting cyber-hoaxed at school; as it happens, the hoaxer isn't diabolical but a lonely kid bullied by his father (Frank Grillo, terrific as the malcontent in "The Grey").
In the course of playing out these stories, director Henry Alex Rubin is careful to include opportunities for characters to peck at their keyboards in extended conversations, their words frequently floating onscreen.
For all that effort, the movie doesn't especially convey why such a conversation might be seductive, or how waiting for a reply might be addictive; it's mostly interested in reminding you that all this is disconnecting us from each other.
Rubin co-directed the engaging documentary "Murderball," and while the overall hyper-linked narrative here is too constricting by far, some sequences are compelling.
The obsessive nature of the couple's focus on the suspect in their identity-theft storyline takes on a certain force (though it might have been more intriguing without their backloaded histories of past trauma).
Michael Nyqvist gives the suspect more interest in his limited screen time than most of the other actors manage; he's the Swedish actor from the original "Girl with a Dragon Tattoo" pictures, and has "next Christoph Waltz" possibilities if he could get a couple of decent roles down the line.
The most interesting casting is Jason Bateman, although his expert timing and legit dramatic chops are used here only in scattered moments. But then that's the nature of this kind of picture: We're meant to be awed by the design of it, the interlocking pieces, the way all the threads builds to a single climactic moment. Which seems over-determined for a movie about how our lack of connectedness is keeping us apart.
"Disconnect" (1½ stars)
Different stories intersect, "Crash"-style, in this ensemble film about the dangers of the world of social media and other online enticements. Valid as the warning may be, the film doesn't get beyond the lecturing-the-audience mode, even with a strong cast led by Jason Bateman, Andrea Riseborough and Alexander Skarsgard.
Rated: R for nudity, language, violence.
Showing: Meridian, Sundance.
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