- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
ay this for “Lakeview Terrace”: it’s arguably the best Screen Gems movie in years, which is like calling it the studio’s prettiest ugly duckling. In truth, it’s a by-the-numbers stalker thriller with an enjoyable but scenery-chewing performance by Samuel L. Jackson at its center. Compare it to the other movies Screen Gems has inflicted upon an unsuspecting public, however ("The Brothers Solomon," “Untraceable,” “The Covenant,” “When a Stranger Calls,” the “Resident Evil” movies, “The Cave,” “The Messengers” and “Ultraviolet”), and we’re talking instant classic. It’s not, of course, but next to those movies, this is practically “Citizen Kane.”
Jackson is Abel Turner, a hard-nosed, dedicated family man (single family man at that), who is none too pleased to see Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington) move in next door. They’re an interracial couple, and that mysteriously bothers Abel, something he makes subtly – but abundantly – clear to Chris. After an incident in Chris and Lisa’s back yard, Abel points blinding security lights at their house, and sabotages their air conditioner when he finds a cigarette butt in his yard. Chris files a report with the police when the acts of vandalism ramp up, but since Abel is a veteran police officer (oh, snap!), their complaints don’t get very far. Abel continues to push the mild-mannered Chris until Chris pushes back, and at that point, Abel starts to play really dirty.
Jackson’s Abel is cut from the same cloth as Michael Douglas’ William Foster from “Falling Down” – his stubbornness and values are rooted in right-minded principles, but ultimately he, like Foster, simply loses his mind. Jackson does a magnificent job making Abel as likable (if you can call it that) as he does, as Abel could very easily have been an insufferable jackass. If only the other actors had roles with so much depth; Wilson has little choice to do but put up with Abel’s taunts, and while that is likely how it would play out in real life, you wish he had been given the opportunity to show more backbone than he does. Washington’s role is so underwritten you can almost see through her; Lisa is stuck contradicting herself in one scene in order to serve Abel’s purpose, and later commits a heinous act of betrayal against Chris that would send most married couples to divorce court. Here, however, it is called character development. Did the screenwriters (both men) consult any women as they were writing her part? It doesn’t appear so.
Lastly, there is the issue of the mountains of evidence Chris and Lisa obtain throughout the course of the movie that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Abel is a low-down, dirty dog – YouTube, anyone? – yet Chris and Lisa never rationally weigh the options handed to them. All of the script’s efforts went into Abel, and while that produces two great on-the-job scenes (one of which is strikingly familiar to Keanu Reeves’ “dress black, talk white and drive Jew” speech in “Street Kings”), it also creates a void with regard to where the audience’s loyalties lie. Who, exactly, are we supposed to be rooting for here? The movie itself doesn’t seem to be sure.
Hard to believe that the studio that once released “Arlington Road” and “Snatch” has fallen to the point where a movie like “Lakeview Terrace” is considered a high-water mark, but there we are. To look at things from a positive light, though, at least Neil LaBute can breathe a sigh of relief that he put that whole “Wicker Man” thing behind him once and for all. And Jackson has a good shot at next year’s MTV Movie Award for Best Villain. That’s something, isn’t it?
Single-Disc DVD Review:
This single-disc DVD offers something that few DVDs do these days: deleted scenes that are worth watching. The jewel of the bunch is an intense scene between Kerry Washington and Samuel L. Jackson, shot both for an R rating and a PG-13 rating (read: Kerry shows more skin in the R-rated version). Washington and director Neil LaBute provide an audio commentary, and LaBute offers commentary on the deleted scenes as well. Rounding out the features are three featurettes on the story's plot, the casting and production.