** (out of 5)
September 19, 2008
Samuel L. Jackson as ABEL TURNER
Patrick Wilson as CHRIS MATTSON
Kerry Washington as LISA MATTSON
Studio: Screen Gems
Directed by: Neil LaBute
BY KEVIN CARR
Last week, one of the new releases in theaters was “Righteous Kill” with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. It was the first time they shared the screen since Heat, and that made the film more of a news story than the movie itself. “Righteous Kill” wasn’t that great and was nothing more than an excuse for fans of Pacino and DeNiro to see their favorite actors in person.
Similarly, “Lakeview Terrace” seems to be made for die-hard Samuel L. Jackson fans… and nobody else.
The film tells the story of a young interracial couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) who move into a nice neighborhood. The family living next door includes a widowed, hard-nosed police officer named Abel Turner (Jackson) and his two kids. The young couple have a few indiscretions (including flicking cigarette butts into the Turner’s yard and having an impromptu sex scene in their back yard pool) that rubs Abel the wrong way.
To add insult to injury, Abel has something against them as an interracial couple. He isn’t very subtle about his dislike for his new neighbors, and soon he goes out of his way to make their lives difficult. Soon, things escalate into dangerous territory.
I’m a huge fan of Samuel L. Jackson, and I thoroughly enjoy him going into his stock character mode. Like Jack Nicholson or Robert DeNiro, he’s fun to watch in about anything he does. However, Jackson’s presence alone cannot save a poorly written script and pretentious directing.
The biggest flaw in this film is that I didn’t care about any of the characters. The protagonists are the new homeowners, but they’re weak characters. They’re ultimately inconsiderate, and while they don’t deserve the harassment he inflicts upon them, I lost a lot of sympathy for them for how obnoxious they could be.
Additionally, while Jackson is fun to watch on screen, Wilson and Washington really don’t have the chops to carry a movie. Wilson is too much of a generic actor with nothing that makes him stand out. Washington is a full-fledged hottie, but she seems to deliver every line like a flirtatious teenager. Maybe either could work well with another actor as their foil, but together they develop an acting vacuum.
This movie plays out exactly as you might expect. In fact, even if you haven’t seen the trailers, it’s possible to guess what happens from scene to scene. There’s no real surprises, except for how clueless the characters are. For example, in one scene, Abel is having a party with his friends in the middle of the night. All his neighbors had to do was videotape or photograph the events from their window and send the tape to Internal Affairs, who is already investigating Abel for police brutality.
Director Neil LaBute, who showed so much promise with his debut of “In the Company of Men,” has fallen into a schlock cycle. With this being his follow-up to the wretched Wicker Man remake, his name is quickly becoming worthless in Hollywood.
Finally, the film is saddled with an overly pretentious and utterly uninspired backdrop of the California wildfires. It’s so clear that they are meant to be a symbol of impending doom, but the metaphor is slathered on the screen with no finesse and really no purpose.
“Lakeview Terrace” is meant to be a taut thriller. However, the script violates a cardinal rule… it has the characters act unrelentlessly stupid in order to force a conflict. By the end, I really didn’t care about any of them.