If a major stu­dio release clocks in at 85 min­utes or less, there is a strong chance that it has been tam­pered with by the stu­dio.  Disturbing Behavior serves as a cau­tion­ary tale for this sce­nar­io: take off the open­ing and end cred­its and you have a fea­ture that limps to the 75-min­ute mark.  It would lat­er be revealed that near­ly a half hour’s worth of sce­nes was lopped off at the last min­ute by MGM, thus giv­ing the nar­ra­tive flow a notable chop­pi­ness and ren­der­ing the char­ac­ter­i­za­tions nonex­is­tent.  That said, the result­ing film has issues that go deep­er than stu­dio tam­per­ing.DisBeh-01

Disturbing Behavior starts with a new kid in a new town: Steve (James Marsden) is still reel­ing from the sui­cide of his broth­er when he has to deal with a move and a new school.  He is befriend­ed by mis­fit-rebel Gavin (Nick Stahl), who offers a jaun­diced view of the “Blue Ribbons,” the too-per­fect clique that rules the school.  Gavin has a para­noid the­o­ry that smarmy psychologist/surgeon Dr. Caldicott (Bruce Greenwood) is using his skills to turn trou­bled kids into good cit­i­zens.  When Gavin has that kind of trans­for­ma­tion, Steve teams up with Gavin’s sexy pal Rachel (Katie Holmes) to find out what’s going.  They will dis­cov­er that Gavin’s para­noid the­o­ries were right — and the “Blue Ribbons” are both less per­fect and more dan­ger­ous than any­one knows.

Even casu­al view­ers will notice the heavy-hand­ed re-edit­ing at play in Disturbing Behavior: there are abrupt jumps in time, sud­den shifts of atti­tude for char­ac­ters, a  gen­er­al feel­ing that the plot is hurtling for­ward too quick­ly and an obnox­ious “sur­prise end­ing” that feels like a stu­dio note brought to life.

That said, the untam­pered-with parts of Disturbing Behavior have their own prob­lems: Scott Rosenberg’s script is extreme­ly deriv­a­tive of oth­er sources — The Stepford Wives, John Saul’s nov­el Creature, etc. — and often under­cuts its hor­ror ele­ments with a campy, cyn­i­cal approach.  It also has the most over­bear­ing­ly “hip” teen dia­logue this side of Juno.  The direc­tion by X-Files vet David Nutter gives the film a pol­ished look and some nicDisBeh-02e moments of creepy atmos­phere but it feels like he couldn’t decide if he was mak­ing a teen hor­ror satire or a straight hor­ror flick. He splits the dif­fer­ence, which gives the movie a schizoid tone.

On the plus side, Disturbing Behavior has a good cast that tries its best to invest in the mate­ri­al.  Marsden and Holmes are like­able despite affect­ed char­ac­ter­i­za­tions (the script has Holmes con­stant­ly using “razor” as a slang term) and Greenwood is good enough to cre­ate a sly per­for­mance that works in both the scary and campy moments.  Stahl goes for broke as the rebel: his com­mit­ment is admirable but Nutter prob­a­bly should have reigned him in a bit.  Steve Railsback also pops up in a too-brief role as a shady sher­iff.  The one flat note is a shock­ing­ly bad per­for­mance by the usu­al­ly more reli­able William Sadler as a jan­i­tor with a secret: he wild­ly over­acts his odd­ball char­ac­ter, com­plete with vocal affec­ta­tions that are like nails on a chalk­board.

In short, the fin­ished ver­sion of Disturbing Behavior is mud­dled due to stu­dio inter­fer­ence — but the parts of the orig­i­nal ver­sion that shine through sug­gest the film was mud­dled at the con­cep­tu­al lev­el before the exec­u­tives had their way with it.

Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory recent­ly revived this title for blu-ray in a nice cat­a­log title-style edi­tion.  The HD bump it receives here brings out the details in the fre­quent night pho­tog­ra­phy and shad­owy inte­ri­ors.  Both 5.1 and 2.0 loss­less stereo tracks are includ­ed: the 5.1 was used for this review DisBeh-03and gives a decent lev­el of depth to the sound­scape.

This disc also car­ries over the extras from the old MGM DVD of this title, name­ly a com­men­tary track and a set of delet­ed sce­nes.  The com­men­tary is a solo track by Nutter, who dis­cuss­es the moti­va­tion behind his direc­to­ri­al choic­es, relates his expe­ri­ences work­ing the actors and points out the many places where sce­nes were delet­ed.  24 min­utes’ worth of delet­ed sce­nes are includ­ed: high­lights include more romance between Marsden and Holmes as well as a dif­fer­ent, more dra­mat­ic end­ing.  The orig­i­nal the­atri­cal trail­er rounds things out.