A scene from "Disconnect." (Phil Bray )
"Disconnect" doesn't need cars, fists or guns. Its tech-obsessed characters do enough damage with their keyboards. The first narrative feature from Henry-Alex Rubin (who directed the Oscar-nominated doc "Murderball") is to smartphones what "Crash" is to racism. Call it "Send."
The weapons are social media, Web cams and chat rooms, and the attackers take turns as victims and villains. Jason Bateman, disguised in a beard, plays the father of an awkward teenager (Jonah Bobo) humiliated by a fake Facebook profile. The prankster's (Colin Ford) dad (Frank Grillo) is an Internet detective helping a couple (Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton, convincingly deglamorized) hunt the identity thief who emptied their bank accounts. Meanwhile, an ambitious anchorwoman (excellent British actress Andrea Riseborough) pays a teen porn actor (Max Thieriot) for his time and trust.
By design, much of the drama takes place on a screen within the screen, and several of the big moments are texted. Even when real conversations start, they're derailed by the chime of a cellphone. What works is the uncomfortable intimacy of peering over the shoulders of, say, Patton when she watches YouTube videos of her dead son, and the shudder of recognition that our hard drives are our external consciences.
Screenwriter Andrew Stern smartly sees that our devices are just devices. Humans are forever prone to disaster, iPads just pave the way. His attack sounds one-note, but it's the fallout that holds our interest as morality isn't as binary as 1s and 0s. Alas, the flick can't resist overheating. Paradoxically, when people finally do jump in their cars, curl their fists and grab their guns, we wish they'd retreat to the safety of their monitors.
"Disconnect." MPAA rating: R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language, violence and drug use — some involving teens. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes. Playing in limited release.
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