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MOVIE REVIEW

'The Invisible' speaks to the restless and young

"The Invisible " is being tossed into theaters like chum for the restless weekend kiddies, and it'll probably be on DVD by next Tuesday. Let's call it what it is, though: a fully felt, decently crafted teen B-movie melodrama, plenty preposterous in places but alive to the vibrant miseries of being young and misunderstood.

The plot sounds like "Rebel Without a Cause " grafted onto "Ghost ," but in fact "The Invisible" is a remake of a 2002 Swedish hit, "Den Osynlige ," which was based on an original novel. Duly Americanized, it's now the story of Nick Powell (Justin Chatwin , Tom Cruise's son in "War of the Worlds"), a rich, unhappy high school senior who becomes stuck between the living and the dead when he's beaten up by toughs.

His body lying comatose in the woods, Nick's spirit wanders the hallways of his high school and through the den of his chilly robo-Mom (Marcia Gay Harden ), desperate to be noticed by anyone before he dies for good. He throws stuff around; no one sees him. He screams his throat sore; no one hears. As the girl in his poetry class says, "It's a metaphor, dummy."

Interestingly, the only person who can just barely sense Nick calling from the netherworld is the girl who put him there: Annie Newton (Margarita Levie va ), a jackbooted thugette with the trembling heart of a wounded bird. Annie hangs out with a career criminal (Alex O'Loughlin ) and shakes down the kids at school, but you just know she's got a glossy head of hair underneath that knit cap, and "The Invisible" eventually lets it tumble down.

Annie ends up taking over the movie, and that is something different -- it's as if Natalie Wood's character in "Rebel" had put on the brass knuckles and stepped into the rumble. Another young actress might play the part as the warmed-over Avril Lavigne clone it probably was on paper, but Levieva, a Russian-born actress with a wide face and distant eyes, accesses levels of doom and fury that keep going deeper. Nick and Annie become privileged lost souls, the only two who truly see each other.

That, of course, is the great, self-absorbed Topic A of adolescence, and from its title on down, "The Invisible" is hardly subtle about it. On the other hand: a commercial allegory aimed at youth audiences? Why not? It's certainly preferable to the regurgitated horror junk filling most multiplexes. If crime-drama cliches are present -- and they are -- they don't gunk up the works, because director David S. Goyer cares more about the movie's raw-boned emotions. He follows them to a few surprising places, too, with what might be described as stylish competence.

You're probably too cynical for "The Invisible," but maybe you know a person who isn't -- someone who feels the world looks right through them on a daily basis and scribbles feverishly about it in their journal. To them it will speak loud and true.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr @globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

'Related'

The Invisible

Directed by: David S. Goyer

Written by: Mick Davis and Christine Roum , based on a novel by Mats Wahl

Starring: Justin Chatwin , Margarita Levieva , Marcia Gay Harden

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 97 minutes

Rated: PG-13 (violence, criminality, sensuality and language, all involving teens)

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