‘Disturbing the Peace’ is a Crime

by Warren Cantrell on January 15, 2020

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Rock Fist Way Down]

A deranged fever-dream of a story that pits good, white, Christian folk against hordes of invading troublemakers looking to take advantage of an under-armed town, Disturbing the Peace is the worst kind of movie. Frenetically shot and written with such searing incompetence that the fundamental components of the story rarely hold up to even the basest level of scrutiny, the film is a clinic in ghastly storytelling. The result is a black stain on every involved party, though one can almost excuse Guy Pearce, who is doing his best throughout the picture to elevate the material beyond the shallow depths where it resides.  

After a brief cold open that establishes a backstory for the lead, Marshall Jim Dillon (Pearce), Disturbing the Peace rushes the audience through some painfully forced exposition to set up what’s to follow. Dillon is the Marshall of the small American town of Horse Cave, which is sleepy enough that he doesn’t even need to carry a gun. This is a good thing, too, because the opener establishes that a tragic accident scarred Dillon, who can’t bring himself to carry a weapon any longer.

This becomes a sticking point when a vicious biker gang rolls into town and manages to take most of Horse Cave’s citizens hostage in a brazen robbery scheme. Teaming up with his deputy and the town preacher’s daughter/restaurant owner, Catie (Kelly Greyson), Dillon must overcome his firearm hang-ups to save everyone and defeat the bikers: who are led by the enigmatic Diablo (Devon Sawa). There are hints at a bigger story behind Diablo’s scheme, as he seems to know the town and its citizens intimately, yet except for one throwaway line in the third act (which connects to a failing town subplot that is only ever mentioned here), there’s little to tie him into the grander arc writer Chuck Hustmyre is trying for.

To call the schlock in this picture T.V.-grade is an insult to the medium in its current state, as it is more of a throwback to late-80s/early-90’s potboiler trash. The comparison is especially apt considering the content of this thread-bare script, which feels like a Walker Texas Ranger-MacGyver crossover event. Very little about the film makes sense, from the actions of the characters (Dillon throws a gun away one moment only to go out of his way to get a pistol just a few scenes later), to the use of characters who drift in and out of the script with a whimsical inconsistency that indicates Huntsmyre just straight up forgot about a few of them. This in and of itself is a damning indictment of the effort as a whole, though the fact that the director York Alec Shackleton also seemed to not notice is even more astonishing.

What happened to the driver of the armored truck? The movie halted in its tracks to labor over this guy’s dilemma, only to abandon him wholesale and never return or provide any closure to his plot thread. And what about the mayor-elect character, whose beef with Dillon re-surfaces throughout Disturbing the Peace, yet never gets any on-screen comeuppance? A quick throwaway joke about him near the end is all the audience gets, despite his oversized presence in the story, marking yet another half-assed attempt at character/world-building that Huntsmyre can’t seem to manage.

It’s all just a mess. Although it is set in a small one-street town, there’s little spatial awareness in its presentation, with locations thrown around without any connection to the others. For example, how far is the church from the bank, or the bank from the interstate? The effort comes off like a reverse-engineered attempt to prop up a central premise (bikers riding into town to stage a daring robbery) that just doesn’t mesh with the thinly-drawn characters and setting assigned to shoulder it all. Folks that need a backstory either don’t get enough (Diablo), or get it all in long strings of exposition that are as clunky as they are contrived. Pearce does his best, as does Sawa, who is giving it is all with this one, but there’s just not enough meat on the bone, here.

The macho, Rambo-esque energy running through Disturbing the Peace, combined with its social politics (railing against gun control, punishing the sexually inept beta characters, the invading outsider tropes, mob justice) make it a thoroughly ugly and distasteful experience from top to bottom. It’s a call-back to an obsolete action model that prizes virile, well-armed individualism in opposition to a social apparatus that is isolating this brand of manhood.

Even if this was a competent, well-made, thoughtfully executed action thriller (again, it isn’t), these burdens would hang around its neck and weigh the whole effort down. Opening this week on VOD, Disturbing the Peace does just that: upsetting a nice lull in the film season that is most often populated by a combination of smaller, clever independent fare and harmless studio flotsam that didn’t fit anywhere else in the schedule. This one is neither: skip it.

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and The Playlist. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing.

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