Like a good neighbor, Appellate Judge Tom Becker is there.
Our review of Lakeview Terrace (Blu-Ray), published January 27th, 2009, is also available.
What could be safer than living next door to a cop?
Lakeview Terrace is such a stupid movie that you have to wonder what Director Neil LaBute and writers Howard Korder and David Loughery were thinking.
Actually, that's not true. It seems pretty apparent what they were thinking:
"Hey, Crash was a simple-minded and obvious thriller about how everybody's racist and it won an Oscar! Why don't we do that, only instead of making a bunch of short stories about different people, we'll make it one long story about a mean black guy who doesn't like his interracial neighbors."
"Yeah, he can be like George Jefferson, only we'll have a back story where 'Weezy ran off with the white doorman, so now the George character is crazy and dangerous."
"Yeah, and we'll make him a cop, because they can do a lot more damage than dry cleaners."
"Oh! Oh! Let's make him LAPD, everyone knows they're bad cops, and racist, too! And Rodney King is doing Celebrity Rehab, you can't buy that kind of publicity!"
"High fives all around!"
Facts of the Case
Chris (Patrick Wilson, Little Children) and Lisa (Kerry Washington, Ray) Mattson move into their new home in a quiet little cul-de-sac near L.A. This is the first house they've owned, and they are eager to get their new lives under way.
Unfortunately, they've moved next door to LAPD officer Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson, Eve's Bayou). Abel rules his own home (teen daughter, younger son) with an iron fist, is not above using a little excessive force on the job, and has elected himself neighborhood safety officer/mayor/arbiter-of-all-that-is-good-and-appropriate.
Abel is not happy to meet Chris and Lisa—that they are an interracial couple seems to raise his hackles to unimagined heights. So Abel determines to make life miserable for the new neighbors.
At first, Chris and Lisa just deal with his bizarre comments and cruel prankstering, but Abel soon pushes them to the breaking point. Soon, the young couple feel trapped—since Abel's a cop, they can't turn to the police, and the other neighbors think he's great, so what choice do these attractive interlopers have but to take matters into their own hands?
Unfortunately, there's also one of those dreadful yet symbolic California fires making its way to their backyards.
I've never really been a fan of Neil LaBute. His message is always the same: everyone is a jerk, and all jerkiness is relative. His work is built on a simplistic cynicism, and his unending parade of obnoxious bullies doesn't make it profound.
Like most of LaBute's work, Lakeview Terrace offers up a collection of tediously unlikable characters who stroll around mouthing subtext.
Patrick Wilson is a very good actor and, even better, a risk taker—look no further than Angels in America and Hard Candy to see one of the more underrated talents working today. To say Lakeview Terrace is not his finest hour is an understatement. His Chris is a prissy white-boy stereotype, a pill-popping, tree-hugging Berkeley grad now working for a supermarket chain. You know up front that batty faux-macho loon Abel is going to destroy this wispy guy from within, and you really don't care. Men in LaBute's films tend to be hyper-macho creeps or spineless castrati…guess which one Wilson's playing?
Kerry Washington is really beautiful, and she's a solid actress, but she really doesn't do a whole lot here. Much of her screen time is devoted to hashing out domestic problems with her husband, and since this is a subplot that goes nowhere, her role ends up being pretty forgettable.
Then we have Samuel L. Jackson, a consistently compelling actor. Even his not-so-great performances are fun to watch, and he doesn't disappoint here. Menacing, bellowing, conniving, the role is like a showcase reel, and it's best to remember it that way. It's far more effective as a collection of isolated moments.
The film can't seem to decide if it's a thriller with a race-based undertone or a parable of intolerance gussied up with suspense; whichever it is, it fails.
If there's any novelty to having a black man as a bigot, it disappears in the opening moments, when Abel "shockingly" discovers that what he thinks is a moving man is actually the attractive black woman's husband—not the much older black man he first spies her with (that turns out to be her father). After that, the topic of race comes up every 25 seconds or so, sometimes completely out of the blue, like when a friend of the couple compliments Chris for "hitting the jackpot" by marrying a black girl. Do people actually talk like that? Not the odd drunken conventioneer, but people you know, that you've invited into your home? I guess in Neil LaBute films they do. The closest we get to subtlety here is a poster that Chris and Lisa have—for the 1970 film The Watermelon Man, in which Godfrey Cambridge plays a white bigot who magically turns into a black man. What's subtle about that, you might ask? Well, it's the Italian poster (L'Uomo Caffellatte). Way to fool us with an intuitive visual!
As a thriller, the only remarkable thing is how little urgency it has. The pacing is poor, and the shocks are predictable. Abel's a creep and bully, but until way late in the game, most of his menacing doesn't rise above the level of mild harassment. In one incredibly stupid sequence, he throws a fellow officer a bachelor party, complete with strippers, that goes on all night. How does Chris deal with a house full of rowdy, drunken cops? Why, he puts on his shorts and flip flops, marches over at 3 a.m., and demands that they be quiet. He and Lisa don't bother to call the police, because the entire LAPD is in cahoots, and there's not one cop on the force who would help them—not even one who might swing by the party and say, "Come on, guys, we're getting noise complaints."
That Chris and Lisa—who seem fairly sophisticated—allow themselves to be cowed by the threat of "cop culture" just further weakens this already shaky tale. Have they never heard of IAB? Civilian Complaints Board? The press? This film takes place in Southern California, not at the Macon County Line. Even sillier is when they try to get back at Abel by doing their own, annoying, bad-neighbor things, like aiming floodlights at his windows. Actually, it's too bad they didn't just play this out. Lakeview Terrace would have worked much better as a National Lampoon-style comedy than as a pseudo social thriller.
Sony's release gives us what we'd expect: perfectly fine video and audio, a wealth of subtitles and languages, and a smattering of extras, including a "making of" piece ("Welcome to Lakeview Terrace"), deleted scenes, and a chatty commentary with LaBute and Washington. On the downside, LaBute and Washington don't have all that much to say that's especially interesting, which is generally what happens on commentaries of bad movies. The good news is that the commentary is subtitled (in three languages, no less), which I think is a really neat innovation. The first time I experienced—and was impressed with—a subtitled commentary was on another Sony offering, Prom Night.
A talented cast is squandered in the misguided morass of Lakeview Terrace. Pretentious and silly, it's a time-waster in the worst way.
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