Rated R - Running time: 1:23 - Released 7/24/98

I did not expect this movie to be as good as it is. For a teen horror flick with a cast of virtual no-names, it's surprisingly watchable, even at its worst moments.

In the small New England town of Cradle Bay, life seems pretty normal for the teenage population. As we begin, Steve Clark (Jimmy Marsden) and his family are moving there from Chicago, to try to make a fresh start after a family tragedy: Steve's big brother has committed suicide. When school starts at Cradle Bay High, Steve meets Gavin Strick (Nick Stahl), a sloppy-looking semi-loner with a propensity for marijuana and poetic language.

Gavin doesn't seem to have much respect for any of the other kids at school, but he's especially indignant about the Blue Ribbons, a group of straight-laced neatnicks who all wear identical letter jackets and fill their time with fund-raising bake sales and volunteer community service work. Something doesn't seem right about them to Gavin, especially since some used to be among his pothead friends. When he witnesses a double murder by one of them, and the local police ignore the incident, he knows something's wrong. But he has no proof.

What convinces Steve is when Gavin himself becomes a Blue Ribbon, totally changing his outlook and his feelings toward the group. Steve and Gavin's friend Rachel (Katie Holmes) start doing a little detective work and find that their (and Gavin's) worst nightmare is true. Troubled teens are being implanted with electronic devices that make them want to succeed, to do good, to be straight arrows. The schoolteacher who is responsible (Bruce Greenwood) is a former behavioral psychologist who has devised this method of mind control. Unfortunately, it has some messy side effects.

Despite some stereotypical characterizations and miscellaneous flubs, like an English teacher who can't spell "tomorrow," Disturbing Behavior is surprisingly tight, well-acted (especially by Stahl), and well-written. Penned by Scott Rosenberg, author of such films as Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead (1995) and Con Air (1997), and who even helped on Armageddon, the film touches on an interesting ethics question: If such mind control were possible, would it be right to use it, even for "good" purposes? I mean, who wouldn't want their kids to be football stars and honor students, right? But it also shows the inevitable pitfalls of a blind pursuit of scientific progress. The recent cloning issue has aroused similar questions.

The music for this film was supplied by Mark Snow, author of the X-Files theme; perhaps that's why the plot reminded me of an episode from that series. It's hokey at some points (like all high school thrillers), and sprinkled with teenage T&A (a staple), but generally better than most I've seen lately. ***½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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