The standard warning against texting and tweeting during the movie might not be necessary at screenings of "Disconnect." This drama spends two hours lecturing viewers about the evils of smartphone usage, social networking and the Internet in general, here depicted as the driving force behind today's dehumanized society. It's a plea for more face time and less FaceTime.
"Disconnect" uses three slightly overlapping story lines to illustrate various technological pitfalls. An ambitious news reporter (Andrea Riseborough) puts a naive Web-porn star (Max Thierot) in her latest exposé. Two boys create a fake online identity to sucker a lonely classmate (Jonah Bobo) into posting a nude photo of himself, which is cruelly publicized. The third story, about a couple grieving for a dead child, conflates two Internet dangers: potential adultery and identity theft.
The performances range from weak to very good, depending on the material. Alexander Skarsgard and Paula Patton, as the bereft couple, are trapped in a melodrama and can't get out, although Jason Bateman is so moving as the father of the humiliated child that you'll forget he's famous for comedies. Michael Nyqvist, of the "Dragon Tattoo" films, and the great Hope Davis ("American Splendor") appear in tiny roles.
My main objection: The Web doesn't hurt people, people hurt people. Journalists lie, spouses stray and thieves steal, but "Disconnect" keeps trying, unsuccessfully, to pin the blame on technology rather than its users. Writer Andrew Stern and first-time feature director Henry-Alex Rubin (the documentary "Murderball") make their strongest case with the cyberbullying thread, which draws a clear and harrowing line between thoughtless keyboard strokes and real-world consequences. The other stories stretch to reach their targets, and still miss.
"Disconnect" has a wrongheaded title (its characters are, if anything, overconnected) and a wrongheaded outlook. I would call its antitech attitude old and grouchy, but even old grouches have figured out that email, Skype and texting can be good things. "Disconnect" didn't make me want to throw out my iPhone. In fact, I used it to write this review.
PLOT Three stories illustrate the pitfalls of the Internet.
RATING R (language, adult themes)
BOTTOM LINE This distraught drama blames just about every social evil, from grand larceny to mild dishonesty, on the World Wide Web. Does this mean it won't be streaming on Netflix?