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The Revue: Despite new star, Mizzou can’t escape DISTURBIA in Tennessee

Eli Drinkwitz’s follow-up feature promises thrills and a new starring face. Unfortunately, it ends up being a bit of a snooze-fest.

Josh Matejka

Disturbia

Directed By: Eli Drinkwitz

Starring: Connor Bazelak, Larry Rountree III, Nick Bolton, Harrison Mevis

Synopsis: Eli Drinkwitz taps a rising star to lead the way, but can’t craft a winner out of a thrilling premise.

Rating:

You know what happens when you see a guy in a movie and you get that producer feeling inside your brain? “I like that guy,” you may think; “He’s gonna be a big star!”

Spotting up-and-coming talent is one of the hardest things to do in the film industry, especially because it takes a special talent to top-line a movie with the sort of appeal that draws praise from executives and critics alike. And just a few minutes into Eli Drinkwitz’s follow-up to his debut at Mizzou Studios, it’s clear that he believes he may have found the next big thing.

Enter Connor Bazelak. We got to see glimpses of his rising stardom in some of previous director Barry Odom’s work. The poise and confidence he displays on-screen are reminiscent of old stars and new — he’s got the upright swagger of a young Cary Grant and the young swagger of 1990’s Brad Pitt. Maybe that’s hyperbole, but we all get stars in our eyes for a new kid on the block, right?

Unfortunately for Bazelak — and Drinkwitz — the vehicle Bazelak makes his grand entrance in isn’t worth the film it’s shot on. Sure, the new kid may be alright, but this feature is bogged down by a clear lack of planning and execution. It’s a major letdown, one that should have never been left in a newcomer’s hands.

It’s an interesting premise, to be sure. New guy in town wants to scope out the neighborhood, ends up getting in way over his head... it feels like a perfect fit for Halloween in Columbia, Missouri. Fans need some scares to wake them up, but not so much that they’re going to be hesitant to buy in next time.

Drinkwitz’s sophomore effort fails to do either. On the contrary, it’s a bit of a snooze fest. Take all the times Bazelak — along with a solid supporting cast of Larry Rountree III, Damon Hazelton and others — started to put things together. When they strung together a good scene or two, the momentum really started picking up. You could see where it was going, how the new guy’s energy was really going to take the feature to the next level. And yet, it always seemed to fizzle at the goal line, literally and figuratively. It’s got more to do with the direction than the cast at this point. Drinkwitz is still clearly getting his feet under him, and even if he has the right group of actors in place, he still doesn’t have a good feel for how to use them. The performances are solid in some areas and wildly inconsistent in others, leaving a whole effort that feels disjointed and lacking the sort of oomph that can behoove new directors.

Of course, the fault doesn’t lie completely with the director’s visor. It’s not like Bazelak himself was above reproach. Sure he has the sort of glamorous debut energy you’d want to see out of a new star, but there were unquestionably moments where the bright lights seemed to get in his eyes a bit. His performance was overall solid, but also missed the mark at times, sometimes leaving his fellow stars out to dry.

None of that is to mention Director of Defensography, Ryan Walters. A rising star in the industry, Walters’ work inspired Drinkwitz to keep him at Mizzou Studios through the transition from Odom. It’s understandable that there may be hiccups — direction is such a individualized thing, one leader’s style may not gel completely with those around him right away. But it’s hard to be anything but disappointed by the results coming from Walters’ crew in these past two features. Actors aren’t hitting their marks and often look asleep at the wheel. Meanwhile, it feels like the crew often hasn’t laid out a good plan for their cast, leaving the talent high and dry when it comes to show time.

Is there enough here to keep buying back in when a new picture is released? This critic says yes. In this sort of studio-system, it can take a while before a new director gets his feet under him and really starts to crank out good pictures. Last week’s CONTAGION wasn’t entirely a dud anyway... it had the right sort of energy you’d want out of a first-time big budget director. Is his follow-up a dud? There’s no doubt about it. But the reasons for hope are there, especially if Drinkwitz can train up his new star well and fix some of the issues on the periphery.

Feel free to leave DISTURBIA on the shelf and wait for the next big thing coming out of Mizzou Studios.