I was raised with manners and have a sincere appreciation for how difficult it is to make a film. These factors were not enough to prevent me from cackling, loudly, at the climax of Henry Alex Rubin's "Disconnect," in which the weight of modernity's problems come metaphorically crashing down on the youth of today in the form of a hockey stick swung in misdirected anger. By Jason Bateman. In slow motion. As a Philip Glass-esque score throbs in your ears. Yeah, there's a good chance you would have laughed, too.
"Disconnect" is another of those films where multiple storylines are (ahem) connected through characters unaware of the other narratives. This can work, as in Soderbergh's "Traffic," Altman's "Short Cuts" or, my personal fave, Lucas Belvaux's "Trilogy," but it can also lead to an embarrassment like Fernando Meirelles' "360," Paul Haggis' "Crash" or Garry Marshall's films named after lanes in the Hallmark store.
"Disconnect" isn't quite as bad as those, but it sure as heck ain't good. The individual scenes are perfunctory enough - and somehow manage to make endless scenes of people typing vaguely cinematic - but if a product's biggest selling point is that you get three mediocre stories for the price of one, you may want to consider shopping elsewhere.
Story A: Andrea Riseborough plays a local television newsreader who smells a scoop in the very young people on the other end of pay-per-minute sex cams. (Why she's there in the first place is ambiguous.) She and Eighteen year old hunk Max Thieriot hit it off and, when she realizes the production house is local and also a haven for underage runaways, she twists his arm into sitting for an interview. After the story goes national and the FBI come with questions, we realize the station's lawyer is the father of . . .
Story B's Jonah Bobo, an emo kid with long hair, no friends and a love of GarageBand who is cyber-bullied into hanging himself. Despite the fact that Bobo's checked-out demeanor would probably get him labelled as "cool" (the unnamed town is somewhere within driving distance of New York City) “Disconnect” sells him as emotionally destroyed by two shrimpy snots way smaller than he is. He is duped into thinking a mystery girl is hot for him. He sends “her” embarrassing photos and then may as well start wearing a scarlet L for loser. One of the two punk-ass kids' father (Frank Grillo, far outshining the material) happens to be a cyber crime investigator and he is working for. . .
Story C's married couple Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton, who have had their identities stolen, possibly because Patton has been spilling her guts in self-help groups (they've lost a child) or because Skarsgard has an online gambling problem. Their marriage seems over once the repo men come to take the flatscreen, but they start to reconnect when they locate the culprit and the spirit of vengeance puts some spice back into things.
"Disconnect” is unsubtle in its portrayal of technology as an agent of evil in our society. This just in . . . people stole and kids were cruel long before the laptop. The oldest profession's provenance is right there in its name. You can practically hear your grandmother clucking her tongue during the scenes where a boy is texting at the dinner table, and it sent me into a furious, futurist-defending rage.
I mean, give me a break. I got to my screening of “Disconnected” fifteen minutes early and you know what I did? I dove into a highly productive round of mobile phone emailing and managed my time very successfully. Yes, I suppose I could have been reading Proust or listening to Mahler, but I was on the clock and just a few short years ago the work I accomplished in that period would have been tacked on to the end of my day.
Luddite philosophy aside, “Disconnect” isn't even all that interesting. I suppose the news reporter/cam-hunk story wins some points for reversing the gender of the savior/damsel dynamic, but the kid is a poorly constructed character. At first he's too dense to realize luring underage kids to pose nude could lead to a jail sentence, then he's moralizing over “who's exploiting who?!?” The rest of the characters hew the line of cliché far better.
For those that still can't tell a scam link when they see one, here's a tip: ordering “Disconnected” on VOD is a trap.