Lakeview Terrace Movie Review (2 Stars)
Movie Review by Michael Phillips
Samuel L. Jackson - "Lakeview Terrace"
Here, I think, is the film that director Neil LaBute and screenwriters David Loughery and Howard Korder thought they had with "Lakeview Terrace."
In a sleepy middle-class suburb east of Los Angeles, a tightly wound widower and LAPD officer, played by Samuel L. Jackson, lives with his daughter and son. The mixed-race couple moving in next door, perilously close to the wildfires threatening the nearby hills and canyons, consists of bland, white Chris (Patrick Wilson) and nice, black Lisa (Kerry Washington). To Abel, the African-American cop, this is unacceptable.
He is a racial separatist, and at the root of his prejudices lies a nice, neat tragedy to pin everything on.
Everyone in the movie "Lakeview Terrace," if not overtly racist, is at least dodgy and blinkered in ways relating directly to being in an interracial marriage, or living in a multiethnic city on the brink of ruin even when it's not wildfire season. "I hear you"; "I know where you're coming from"; conversational placeholders such as these fill the dialogue. Yet is anyone really getting any closer to anyone?
That's the idea of the film, and it's a good one. The execution sells it short.
LaBute, whose own screenplays ("In the Company of Men") and stage plays ("Fat Pig") dine out on humankind's most egregious hypocrisies and venal acts of everyday callousness, stage-manages a minimally involving bad-to-worse, tit-for-tat race war played out in a cul-de-sac.
But it's a little depressing to see Jackson struggle with material that simultaneously showcases, marginalizes and demonizes his character. Racial tensions according to "Lakeview Terrace" are inevitable and inevitably fatal, no matter where you live.
The script is scrupulously careful not to paint all L.A. area cops as unstable vigilantes, but the one running this show is Abel, who seems to morph into Ray Liotta from "Unlawful Entry" at inconvenient junctures.
One wishes LaBute, a bleak satirist and, at his best, a crudely compelling dramatist, had taken the script and made it his own sort of twisted comedy instead of a routine thriller. (He took an uncredited pass after Korder, like LaBute a playwright-screenwriter, got done with it.)
The audience-identification figure is Chris, the Prius-driving, Utne Reader-reading Democrat who hides his cigarettes from his wife . He and Lisa, who has little to show for herself beyond wanting children far more, and sooner, than her husband, fall a dimension or two short of three dimensions. And wouldn't a wuss like Chris plant the For Sale sign in his yard the second the seething, conniving, threatening cop holding the gun and the badge starts playing games? He would, yes. But the white protagonist must prove himself to himself, to his doubting peach of a spouse and to the paying customers.
Producer Will Smith no doubt sees the project as a way of saying racism comes in all sorts of guises, yet Abel never seems fully human. He's a predetermined cog in a screenwriting wheel.
Early word on "Lakeview Terrace" suggested a film that starts well and devolves into thriller mechanics and implausibilities. I'd say it starts obviously and becomes a different kind of obvious as it goes. The computer-generated smoke and flames in the exterior backgrounds might as well carry subtitles reading: Hey! We're metaphors for this crazy "Crash"-y universe we call Southern California! The actors make it watchable, but with these incendiary themes, "watchable" isn't exactly a wildfire.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (for intense thematic material, violence, sexuality, language and some drug references).
Running time: 1:46.
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson (Abel Turner); Patrick Wilson (Chris Mattson); Kerry Washington (Lisa Mattson); Jay Hernandez (Javier Villareal); Regine Nehy (Celia Turner).
Directed by Neil LaBute; written by David Loughery and Howard Korder; photographed by Rogier Stoffers; edited by Joel Plotch; music by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna; produced by James Lassiter and Will Smith. A Screen Gems release.
About "Lakeview Terrace" the Movie
Moving into a dream home on a quiet Southern California cul-de-sac becomes a nightmarish ordeal for a young couple in Lakeview Terrace, the latest explosive film from award-winning director Neil LaBute. Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) have just moved into their new suburban house when they become the target of their next-door neighbor. A stern, single father, this tightly wound LAPD officer (Samuel L. Jackson) has appointed himself the watchdog of the neighborhood. His nightly foot patrols and overly watchful eyes bring comfort to some, but he becomes increasingly harassing to the newlyweds. These persistent intrusions into their lives ultimately turn tragic when the couple decides to fight back.
Old guard and new school clash in Lakeview Terrace, a button-pushing thriller starring Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), Patrick Wilson (Little Children), Kerry Washington (Ray, The Last King of Scotland) and Jay Hernandez (Grindhouse). Screen Gems presents an Overbrook Entertainment Production, directed by Neil LaBute (Your Friends and Neighbors, In the Company of Men) from a screenplay by David Loughery (The Three Musketeers; Star Trek V:The Final Frontier) and Howard Korder (Stealing Sinatra), based on the story by Loughery. The film is produced by Overbrook's James Lassiter and Will Smith (ATL). Joe Pichirallo, John Cameron, David Loughery and Jeff Graup are the executive producers. Rogier Stoffers, N.S.C. (Disturbia) is director of photography. Production designer is Bruton Jones (Solstice) and the film is edited by Joel Plotch (The Wicker Man). The costume designer is Lynette Meyer (Nurse Betty). The music is by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna. The casting is by Heidi Levitt, CSA.
Veteran Los Angeles cop Abel Turner (Jackson) guards his neighborhood with the same zeal he brings to his patrol route. The single father of a teenaged daughter and preteen son, Abel is one-man security force, ensuring that his strict standards of behavior are adhered to, even if it means ruffling a few feathers in the process.
Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa Mattson (Kerry Washington), a progressive and upwardly mobile couple, move in next door to Turner, who disapproves of their interracial marriage. Hoping to rid the neighborhood of anything or anyone he deems "undesirable," Turner launches an escalating series of pranks and insults against the Mattsons. From ignoring their request to focus his high-voltage safety lights away from their bedroom to disrupting a housewarming party, Abel takes full advantage of his police connections to antagonize his new neighbors with impunity, hoping to get them to pick up and move out.
When their air conditioning unit is sabotaged in the middle of a heat wave and their car tires are mysteriously slashed, the Mattsons begin to suspect Abel is behind their troubles. But without proof, they can only try to negotiate a truce-an offer Abel does not accept.
Abel's anger flares when his use of inappropriate force on the job lands him on extended leave and he discovers his daughter has been spending time with Lisa. Devoting himself fulltime to harassing his young neighbors, he raises the stakes by hosting a raucous bachelor party at his house that goes on into the wee hours. With music still blasting at 3:00 am, Chris attempts to reason with Turner in an attempt to get some quiet. But Abel turns the tables on Chris, forcing him into a compromising position with the party strippers that is taped and presented to Lisa.
As Abel crosses the line from annoying neighbor to dangerous adversary, the couple tries to fight back, which only feeds Turner's fury. With the resentment between the neighbors building daily, it's only a matter of time before the situation escalates into a potentially deadly stand off.
Lakeview Terrace is rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, violence, sexuality, language and some drug references. The running time is 1 hour, 46 minutes.
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