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Overall Rating
2.57

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 4.76%
Just Average64.29%
Pretty Crappy: 14.29%
Sucks: 16.67%

5 reviews, 12 user ratings


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Lakeview Terrace
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by Peter Sobczynski

"The Dark End Of The Street"
3 stars

If the new dramatic thriller “Lakeview Terrace” had been made by either an unknown director or a middling hack, I might have found myself praising it as a smoothly made and moderately efficient B-movie. The trouble is, the film wasn’t made by a neophyte or a hack. In fact, it was made by Neil LaBute, who has become one of the most interesting American filmmakers of the last decade thanks to such fascinating and complex works as “In the Company of Men,” “Your Friends and Neighbors,” “Nurse Betty,” “The Shape of Things” and yes, even his wildly misunderstood remake of “The Wicker Man.” This is an artist whose entire career, both as a filmmaker and as a playwright, has been based in offering up provocative works that forces viewers to confront subjects that they would probably prefer not to discuss--little things like race, sex, gender politics, ethics and morality--and doing it in a way that leaves no observer unscathed. In other words, this is a man who has never really played things safe and yet, “Lakeview Terrace,” which he did not write, feels more like the work of a man pulling his punches in the hopes of scoring a big box-office hit by telling a story that pretends to be about volatile hot-topic issue but which never quite gets around to dealing with them in any substantial way and which eventually abandons them completely for a final reel in which buildings go up in flames, guns are fired willy-nilly and everyone gets smacked upside the head a few dozen times.

Samuel L. Jackson stars as Abel Turner, a man who spends his days as a cop patrolling the meanest streets of L.A. and his nights trying to raise his two children--grumbly teen daughter Celia (Regine Nehy) and younger son Marcus (Jaishon Fisher)--as a single parent after the death of their mother a couple of years earlier. Although Abel seems like a decent enough guy at first, his overly strict approach to raising his kids and his occasionally rough approach to rousting criminals suggests that he is a tightly wound individual at the best of times and that it would take only one small thing to completely set him over the edge. That small thing comes in the most innocuous of packages--a moving van heralding the arrival of newlywed couple Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) as his new next-door neighbors. To give Abel a little bit of credit, there are many perfectly good reasons to explain his distaste for the Mattsons. While Abel has clearly worked long and hard to be able to afford his house, the newcomers are a young couple who are able to afford their equally impressive abode without any apparent efforts--Chris has some vaguely defined job while Lisa doesn’t work at all--and who plan on flipping the house back into the market in a couple of years in order to make a killing. (I guess this should be considered a period piece after all. Then there is the fact that although he probably doesn’t intend to do so, Chris is a little bit on the obnoxious side--he likes jogging through the neighborhood shirtless, he blasts hip-hop at ear-splitting levels from his car and when he finishes smoking the occasional surreptitious cigarette in his car at the end of the day, he casually flicks the butts into Abel’s well-trimmed lawn. There is also the awkward scene that develops when Chris and Lisa decide to christen their backyard swimming pool, an act that Abel’s children are able to witness from their windows.

These are all perfectly valid reasons for loathing a newcomer to the neighborhood but the reason behind Abel’s instant distaste for the Mattsons is far simpler--it is because Chris is white and Lisa is black. Because of this antipathy towards interracial couples (which is made all the more mysterious because Abel doesn’t appear to have a problem with any other individual person based on their racial background), he begins a pattern of intimidation against them in order to underline the idea that it might be a better idea for them if they moved somewhere else--he shines floodlights that blast right into their bedroom at night, ostensibly as part of his neighborhood patrol and the hose to their air-conditioning system is mysteriously cut with a cigarette butt lying next to it. At first, Chris and Lisa assume that they just got off on the wrong foot with Abel and do everything they can to make peace with him but when his tactics become increasingly unsubtle (such as when the tires on the car are slashed) and it becomes apparent to them that complaining to the police will not lead to any solid results, especially since they can’t actually prove that he did anything, they decide to fight back for themselves instead of fleeing. Of course, this only exacerbates things further and his inability to get the Mattsons to leave, coupled with his temporary suspension from the force for getting a little too rough with a suspect for what is apparently not the first time, causes Abel to get sloppy with his latest plot and it ends up with one person dead, another in the hospital and some leftover evidence that even he won’t be able to easily explain away to his friends on the force. Needless to say, this all leads up to a final mano a mano battle set against a raging symbolic wildfire that threatens to destroy the entire neighborhood.

On the surface, the idea of a black man becoming violently insane at the notion of an interracial couple moving in next door to him sounds like the springboard for the kind of edgy and perversely provocative social drama that Neil LaBute is famous for springing on audiences both on stage and on the screen. For all I know, this may be the reason why he chose to direct this particular screenplay by David Loughery (the scribe behind the likes of “Star Trek V,” “Passenger 57” and “Money Train”) and Howard Korder in the first place--as a way of exploring such ideas within the parameters of a project that would presumably be a far more commercial enterprise than his own original works. The problem is that once the basic premise is set up, all the potentially discomfiting ideas about race, gender and class that might have come forth in a LaBute screenplay are almost entirely tossed to the wayside in order to provide viewers with an action-filled Yuppies-In-Peril melodrama along the lines of “Pacific Heights” or, most obviously, “Unlawful Entry” in which fight scenes and unlikely coincidences take precedence over corrosive drama and complex characterizations. Unfortunately, these are not exactly LaBute’s strengths as a storyteller and while he handles the material decently from a technical standpoint, there are probably at least three dozen members of the DGA who could have done it just as well. I just that he could have applied his talents to an area of the film in more dire need of help--making the screenplay smarter, tougher and more coherent. At the very least, perhaps he could have figured out a more plausible way to spelling out Abel’s hatred of interracial couples than the off-handedly nonsensical explanation offered here.

If LaBute had reworked the screenplay, he might have also fixed its other nagging problem--the fact that the couple that we are ostensibly supposed to be rooting for come across as far less interesting than their oppressor. I liked the idea of making Chris and Lisa into less-than-perfect people at first but by the time that we are officially meant to look upon them as the good guys in this conflict, it still becomes hard to warm up to them because they both come across as bland and relatively uninteresting characters despite the best efforts of such talented actors as Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington. Instead, our sympathies begin to drift towards the character of Abel and this is almost entirely due to the fairly gripping central performance from Samuel L. Jackson in the role. Until the over-the-top finale, he keeps the histrionics in check and presents us with the troubling notion of a character that flies in the face of most conventional liberal thinking--a black man violently opposed to interracial couples--and still somehow manages to come across as something other than a slavering monster until the script goes on autopilot and he becomes just another B-movie bogeyman. Nevertheless, it is one of the stronger and more nuanced performances that he has delivered in a while--so strong and nuanced, in fact, that it makes you wonder what might occur if he and LaBute would team up on a full-fledged LaBute project at some point down the line.

“Lakeview Terrace” is slick and technically adept and will no doubt come across as satisfactory for audiences who want to watch a drama that is provocative, but not too provocative, in much the same way that they might go to Olive Garden because they want to eat food that is Italian, but not too Italian. The best thing about it is the fact that if it does do well at the box-office, it might make it easier for Neil LaBute to get some of his projects off the ground. As for his true feelings surrounding this project, I think that they can be divined by the brief on-screen presence of a poster for the 1970 film “Watermelon Man.” Like “Lakeview Terrace,” it was a film that dealt with race as its subject matter (it featured Godfrey Cambridge as a racist white man who woke up one morning and discovered to his horror that he was now black), it was made by an indie maverick, Melvin Van Peebles, who was working within the confines of the Hollywood studio system for the first time on a project written by others and the end result was a frustrating mess that sounds like it is far more fascinating than it actually is. Of course, Van Peebles bounced back from that experience to give viewers the genuinely provocative classic “Sweet Sweetback’s BaadAsssss Song”--hopefully, history will repeat itself for LaBute as well.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17046&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/19/08 00:00:00
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User Comments

9/16/17 morris campbell realistic but nothing special 3 stars
1/30/10 randy todger pretty good 4 stars
7/28/09 mr.mike Worth seeing....on Starz. 4 stars
6/02/09 aliceinwonderland Amusing Thriller, good acting. 3 stars
1/31/09 action movie fan good idea with some tense scenes but not the rising line needed for effectiveness 3 stars
1/24/09 Jon G woulda got 4 if it didnt pull the race card 3 stars
12/31/08 Man Out 6 Bucks Miscast Jackson 90% chillin & not Eastwood. Overly agitated Chris oozes Berkeley PC hubris 3 stars
12/20/08 Shaun Wallner Not as great as I thought it was gonna be 3 stars
12/19/08 Bubdylan Well, SOME black cops like Abel do exist. Saying so doesn't make it racist. 3 stars
12/05/08 Jack Sommersby A third-rate rendition of the second-rate "Unlawful Entry". 1 stars
11/04/08 damalc excellent acting all around, but kinda preposterous 3 stars
9/25/08 PAUL SHORTT BY CONFRONTING RACIAL ISSUES OF MANY VARIETIES, THIS IS A FINE WORK OF SOCIAL COMMENTARY 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  19-Sep-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 27-Jan-2009

UK
  N/A

Australia
  19-Sep-2008
  DVD: 27-Jan-2009




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