More than a mere title, Disconnect is a recommendation. Put down the iPhone, iPad, and, laptop, exit the chat room, pay your bills through the mail, and assume anyone and everyone you meet through social media is not who they say they are. The scammers, thieves, and predators, already having used up their bag of tricks in real life, turn to cyberspace to wreak their malfeasance on the innocent, uninformed, and vulnerable masses just trying to check their Facebook pages.
Beware the melodramatic alarmist warnings Disconnect throws at you. Every online interaction does not lead to the loss of money, dignity, or physical welfare. Disconnect weaves together three after school special stories to shock the audience with the message, “This is what happens when you go online.” Stealing this device from far better films such as Crash and Babel, Disconnect shows how inferior it is and begs the question of how it jumped ship from the Lifetime Channel where it should have landed in the first place.
Story one is about an 18-year-old boy performing sexual acts on chat sites for money and gifts. Kyle (Max Thieriot) does not think about the future and sees nothing wrong bringing back homeless, underage boys to meet the guy in charge. Reporter Nina Dunham (Andrea Riseborough), trying to make a name for herself at a minor local news station, pursues Kyle as her breakthrough story. Cut to the chase – who is ultimately exploiting whom here?
Story two, the weakest of the three, follows a grieving and estranged couple just going through the motions after the death of their baby. Derek (Alexander Skarsgard) spends too much money gambling online and Cindy (Paula Patton) finds solace chatting with similar mourners in online support groups. Their identity is stolen, their money disappears, and it was either the duplicitous gambling sites or some social engineering scammers on the chat sites responsible for it.
Story three, the strongest of the bunch, gives us an introverted, but musically talented, high school kid (Jonah Bobo) who makes a colossal mistake when he sends a very personal picture of himself to his online girlfriend. His girlfriend is actually two of his adolescent male classmates pulling a prank. If only Manti Te’o had seen this movie, he could have disconnected before his national humiliation. Dad (Jason Bateman) tries everything to uncover what happened while Mom (Hope Davis) just wants everyone to come together as a family again.
Despite the Chicken Little sky-is-falling plots, the acting is noticeably impressive. Bateman, in a rare dramatic role, Bobo, and one of the adolescent pranksters, Colin Ford, emerge from the rest of the pack, but there are no weak links. Director Henry Alex Rubin (Murderball, 2005) is slick with the camera but far too heavy-handed with the message, especially at the end when the stories all hit their climaxes at the same moment in similar shots. First time feature writer Andrew Stern should go back to the drawing board and stop taking inspiration from the 11:00 news, “Up next, something in your house can kill you and we’ll tell you what it is after the break.”
Directed by: Henry Alex Rubin
Written by: Andrew Stern
Starring: Jason Bateman, Hope Davis, Frank Grillo, Michael Nyqvist, Paula Patton, Andrea Riseborough, Alexander Skarsgard, Max Thieriot, Colin Ford, Jonah Bobo, Haley Ramm, Norbert Leo Butz