This is a junior version of "Rear Window," though it's not credited as such. I think that's why some people are so appalled by it (and believe me, the appalled people are burning up the Internets with their outrage). It's not because someone had the audacity to remake a Hitchcock film; it's because someone remade a Hitchcock film and DIDN'T EVEN ACKNOWLEDGE IT. Despite the film's overwhelming similarity to the 1954 thriller, it's being passed off as a wholly original work, with no credit given to the earlier story. Where I come from, that's not a remake, or even an homage. That's a rip-off.
But where I come from isn't Hollywood, and they do things differently there. This amped-up, rock 'n' roll version stars teen-du-jour Shia LaBeouf as Kale, a suburban kid who's misunderstood and angry, which results in his being placed on house arrest for the summer. While his uncomprehending mother (Carrie-Anne Moss) works, ennui-stricken Kale does what he can to amuse himself within the geographic area dictated by his ankle monitor. Mostly, this means spying on the neighbors.
Next door is a new family with a hot teenager daughter, Ashley (Sarah Roemer), who coyly befriends Kale and indulges him in his voyeurism. (Somewhat naively, Ashley doesn't realize that she has probably been the subject of his spying, too.) Kale comes to believe that his other next-door neighbor, Mr. Turner (David Morse), is a serial killer, responsible for murders in his native Texas and more recently for a girl's disappearance here in wherever-this-is. Ashley is somewhat skeptical; Kale's horny, goofy friend Ronnie (Aaron Yoo) is far more eager to believe.
Capers ensue. Kale can't go past a certain point in his yard, which means Ronnie and Ashley have to work reconnaissance and report back via cell phones, video cameras, and other high-techery. ("See?!" exclaim screenwriters Christopher Landon and Carl Ellsworth. "'Rear Window' didn't have those!") They find a number of ambiguous clues, all of which could either be utterly damning or completely benign, depending on how you look at them. Kale's mom gets cozy with Turner, which weirds everyone out, partly because he might be a killer and partly because ... well, killer or not, he's awfully creepy.
There's a lot of coincidence and even more not-calling-the-police-when-you-should, but you can overlook some of that, particularly when the finale is as enjoyably tense as this one is. Credit Morse's professionalism (always give it your all, even when you're just in it for the paycheck) and director D.J. Caruso ("Taking Lives") for setting up high-tension situations and letting them play out more or less naturally. You don't entirely believe that all of this could happen, but hey, you paid your eight bucks, why not go along with it?
On the other hand, the film is little better than an episode of a good cop show, with nothing new to add to the age-old premise. It's a prime example of the You've Seen This Before Syndrome, where everything -- as pleasantly thrilling as it may occasionally be -- has been done before, better, and with less suspension of disbelief required.
LaBeouf is a likable young star who can do better than this. His two co-stars are mostly here as window-dressing, especially Aaron Yoo, whose Ronnie character talks like a 40-year-old Hollywood screenwriter trying to sound like a teenager.
So it's a pretty useless movie, objectively speaking, but harmless in its innocent dumbness. It has a hot girl and some nobody-understands-me teen angst, and it will probably be OK as a Friday-night date for the PG-13 crowd. Anyone older than about 20 should rent "Rear Window" instead.