Watching "Disconnect" is like sitting through a series of exposes about the dangers of cyberbullying or identity theft or teen runaways who end up as sex-cam performers or families who physically sit down to dinner but devote their time and energy to their smartphones.
Four stories crisscross in the first fictional film from Henry-Alex Rubin, a co-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary "Murderball" about wheelchair rugby.
The strongest and most wrenching is about 14-year-old Ben (Jonah Bobo), a musically gifted but friendless misfit who becomes the victim of a mean-spirited prank that spirals out of control.
3 stars = Good
Jason Bateman, Paula Patton, Alexander Skarsgard, Andrea Riseborough.
R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, language, violence and drug use -- some involving teens.
Two schoolmates invent the profile of a girl who claims she likes Ben's taste in music and, later, him. When a private response to "her" sexual overtures goes viral, his humiliation leads to a drastic act, which draws his lawyer-father (an excellent Jason Bateman) into his world.
"Disconnect" shows how a couple, played by Paula Patton and Alexander Skarsgard, have their identities stolen, their bank account drained and their emotional confessions and grief laid bare. When the police cannot seem to help, they turn to a widowed detective (Frank Grillo) who has problems of his own, even if he doesn't realize it just yet.
Andrea Riseborough, who plays Tom Cruise's by-the-book navigator in "Oblivion," is an ambitious TV reporter who tries to convince a teenage boy (Max Thieriot, "House at the End of the Street") on an adult-only website to be interviewed for a story. They both face some thorny questions about just who is exploiting whom.
"Disconnect" traffics in coincidence, convenient delays or melodrama but makes a case for powering down the computer or smartphone and -- how retro -- talking to one another. When a character declares, "Everything I love is in this room," he means the people within his heavy-hearted hug.
Opens today at AMC-Loews at the Waterfront and Cinemark Robinson.