In his previous films, writer/director Neil LaBute has warned us that even disabled women aren’t safe In the Company of Men, one never can predict the deception living within the hearts of Your Friends & Neighbors, pleasant symmetry isn’t to be expected in The Shape of Things, and you don’t need medical training to be called Nurse Betty. And although he’s moved away from the Mamet-like morality tales of the evil lurking behind the smiling and welcoming faces we encounter on a daily basis by directing some less-than-stellar Hollywood fare, his obsession with miscommunication, misperception, and the just plain meanness to be found in the unlikeliest of places is again the subject of his entertaining if lukewarm new thriller Lakeview Terrace.
Unfortunately, its heroic main characters, the young, bright, and beautiful interracial couple Chris (Little Children’s Patrick Wilson) and Lisa Mattson (Kerry Washington), weren’t forewarned with a LaBute memo. Thankfully, their new neighbor, the stoic disciplinarian and widowed LAPD police officer Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) is not only able but all too willing to turn and inform them that they’re not exactly welcome in his neighborhood. Greeting them with the intimidating gesture of an unfilled out traffic ticket with a note scrawled on the back that either threatens or chides, “Welcome to Lakeview, neighbor; observe all parking regulations,” it’s only a matter of time before he decides to confront Chris directly.
“Meet Your New Neighbor.”
Obviously, one shouldn’t rely too heavily on first impressions and Lisa tries to give her new neighbor the benefit of the doubt but it’s Chris who receives the most disdain as Abel not only repeatedly announces his dissatisfaction with their relationship but also begins to drive a wedge in the previously solid relationship between the married Mattsons. Whether it’s refusing to take down his insanely bright security lights that seem like they could double at an airstrip, which flood through his neighbor’s windows and emit an annoying high-pitched buzzing, running a near dictatorship when dealing with his two children, or when he’s all too willing to cross a line at work along with his loyal partner Javier Villareal (the always talented Jay Hernandez), eventually Chris has had enough.
Although in polite society, one’s first line of defense is to always attempt to work things out conversationally. Yet after Abel continually proves unwilling to change his attitude and ramps up his hostility to the new young couple, Chris—upon realizing that even if he could phone the police, they obviously wouldn’t choose his side—tries to reason with Abel directly before it escalates into an ultimatum.
Produced by Will Smith, LaBute’s film which was based on a script by David Loughery and Howard Korder doesn’t quite pack enough heft to justify the talent involved including not just the aforementioned producer and director but also its talented cast and gifted Dutch cinematographer Rogier Stoffers (Mongol).
Still, Stoffers is no stranger to suburban tales of evil neighbors and domestic discord, having lensed the Jennifer Lopez Sleeping With the Enemy-styled Enough and the impressive Rear Window teenage update Disturbia, and while we’ve no doubt seen this storyline dozens of times before such as in the over-the-top police thriller Unlawful Entry, I couldn’t take my eyes off the powerful Samuel L. Jackson. And within moments, it’s easy to see why—even though I wish LaBute would get back to his roots or make something as wonderful as my favorite (Nurse Betty) again—he would’ve been so fascinated by the material and the chance to work with Jackson.
And similar to his work in Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown—it is all the more fitting that Jackson’s character is named Abel Turner as he’s consistently able to turn from funny to frightening in two seconds flat. As the cop who’s quickly going off the deep end, Jackson’s charisma is off the charts. And although the last act of the film has so many dubious plot-holes and logic free rationalizations that it’s ultimately distracting, he’s the one holding things together, making me laugh at even the scariest of moments. This is especially evident in a phenomenal understated scene where you feel as though you can cut the tension with a knife as Abel attends Lisa and Chris’s housewarming party and tries to make frightening small talk with their liberal friends.
You’re never in doubt of the fact that—no matter how ludicrous the finale seems in the world of actual police procedure—Jackson not only knows his character inside and out but we can actual feel as though we’re witnessing his very thought processes. It’s too bad that some of his best work in recent memory is in something that in the end feels like a slightly above average made-for-TV thriller but fans of Jackson’s won’t be disappointed. Not to mention that– all of its problems aside– I still enjoyed the film far more than the other cops-and-robbers-themed press screening held that day for the far more advertised A-list offering, De Niro and Pacino’s mystery, Righteous Kill. So in the choice between these two, I wouldn’t hesitate that you head over to Lakeview Terrace, although ignore your financial advisor and rent before you buy since you never know with whom you’ll be sharing a fence.