Rated PG-13, 110 min. Directed by Neil LaBute. Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Patrick Wilson, Kerry Washington, Ron Glass, Justin Chambers, Jay Hernandez, Regine Nehy, Jaishon Fisher.
REVIEWED By Josh Rosenblatt, Fri., Sept. 19, 2008
By all rights, any movie that pairs Jackson with LaBute should be a four-alarm fire. Jackson, as we well know, is Hollywood’s poet laureate of high-volume profanity, and LaBute is its undisputed king of emotional malevolence, using words to rip open the dark, self-absorbed heart of the modern American condition. So, Jackson playing a violent cop in a LaBute film should be a no-brainer: two hours of delicious psychosexual terror and verbal brutality posing as a movie. Unfortunately, LaBute the brilliant writer (In the Company of Men) doesn’t make an appearance in Lakeview Terrace, only LaBute the average director. The writing has been left to David Loughery – who subjected us to Star Trek V, Passenger 57, and Money Train – and Howard Korder – whose greatest success up to this point has been as a writer for the dreadful 1980s sitcom Kate & Allie. The result is a by-the-book domestic thriller about the consequences of moving into a neighborhood lorded over by a rules-happy sociopath with a gun and a badge. The unfortunate souls doing the moving are Chris and Lisa Mattson (Wilson and Washington), an attractive newlywed couple who have just purchased their first home. From the moment their U-Haul pulls into their new upper-middle-class Los Angeles neighborhood, it’s clear the guy next door, Abel Turner (Jackson), hates them with a passion bordering on mania. Hates them in part for their laughing, freewheeling ways and seeming indifference to the rules of society but mainly because Chris is white and Lisa is black and the world just isn’t supposed to work that way. Giving voice and action to that hatred, Turner wreaks havoc on the Mattsons' quiet lives, antagonizing them with veiled threats and subtle acts of intimidation before turning to all-out psychological warfare, eventually forcing the formerly agreeable Chris to fight back. Jackson was born to play characters like Turner, angry souls lashing out at the world but not entirely unamused by their own deviousness and brutality – Iago with a dirty mouth and a gun – and he makes the scenery-swallowing most out of an underwritten, undercooked role. Aside from that, however, Lakeview Terrace is boilerplate stuff through and through, aiming to play on our shared fear of a besieged home life but settling instead for being a bland study in improbable vigilantism and profound domestic irritation.