'Disconnect' unfortunately lives up to name

| Thursday, May 2, 2013, 7:54 p.m.

I preferred “Disconnect” nine years ago when it was called “Crash.” You remember, that vignette-heavy movie where half a dozen main characters cross paths when their dramatic trajectories unexpectedly intertwine.

This film is about Internet-infused alienation in an anonymous New York suburb. There's a polluting influence that permeates our culture and everyday interactions within society. Let the hand-wringing, brow-furrowing, and deep pronouncements about the true brotherhood of man commence.

Henry Aaron Rubin (“Murderball”) is agile enough juggling the parallel storylines. He cuts the polemic into bite-sized pieces, and keeps us close to the characters with handheld camerawork, generating a sense of anxious intimacy without motion sickness.

A TV news reporter (Andrea Riseborough) chasing a story about underage performers on sex-cam shows develops a complicated bond with her seductive teenaged source (Max Thieriot). Across town, a wealthy lawyer (Jason Bateman) tethered to his smartphone learns how fragile his family relationships are as his wallflower son (Jonah Bobo), tormented by cyber-bullying classmates, is driven to an act of desperation.

In another story stream, a Marine combat vet (Alexander Skarsgard) struggles to salvage his failing marriage. He distracts himself with online gambling while his wife (Paula Patton) pours out her feelings to anonymous members of a grief chat room, ill-advised actions enabling an online predator to bankrupt them. They hunt down a suspect (Michael Nyqvist of the Swedish “Dragon Tattoo” series) but is he really the culprit?

The film is a heavy-handed cautionary tale. Each character learns a lesson, and so do we, and none of it is front-page-scoop material. Are our cyber-gizmos really undermining our values and virtues? People stole, sold their bodies and treated each other shamefully when the cutting-edge communications platform was a clay tablet. Spiritually, we are in Afterschool Special Country.

Bateman, bearded and dour, displays a sympathetic naturalism in a rare dramatic role. He gives us a successful professional who is compassionate and corrupted, likable and full of self-loathing. He shares one of the film's best scenes as he and young Colin Ford, who plays one of his son's classmates, hold an instant-message conversation. It's not easy to make a typing duet compelling, but the rising tide of remorse in each actor's face is undeniably moving.

In a strange, but effective, bit of casting, fashion designer Marc Jacobs plays the sex-cam operation's creepy-yet-humane ringleader. Strong performances notwithstanding, the movie never connects.

Colin Covert is a movie critic for the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

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