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Home Is Where the Horror Is

Lakeview Terrace (2008)

Chuck Zlotnick/Screen Gems

Neil LaBute completes his career 180 degrees turn into total hackdom with "Lakeview Terrace," an exceedingly silly thriller that only proves the filmmaker's misguided remake of "The Wicker Man" was not a fluke. The filmmaker's transition from intelligent, controversial social satire to low-rent genre craftsmanship is very hard to comprehend. It's almost as difficult to understand as Screen Gems greenlighting the overwrought, suspense-free screenplay by David Loughery and Howard Korder.

A hammy, leering Samuel L. Jackson stars as Abel Turner, a crazy, domineering father and police officer who rules over his fancy Hollywood Hills neighborhood with an iron fist. If he doesn't like you and doesn't want you living near him, he'll make it known. Chris (Patrick Wilson) and Lisa Mattson (Kerry Washington), a young couple moving into its first home, learns this the hard way. Abel – also a racist and borderline fascist – disproves of their interracial relationship and the liberal values it connotes. So, he starts making their life miserable and doesn't stop for the rest of the movie.

This is ridiculous stuff, impossible to take seriously. Mr. Jackson's character goes so over the top that he seems to have come straight from a cartoon, baring more of a resemblance to Boris and Natasha of "Rocky & Bullwinkle" fame than a real-world villain. It doesn't help that Mr. LaBute repeatedly cuts away to shots of his star grinning and glaring viciously, in a fashion that hits us over the head with the character's sinister intentions. Mr. Wilson and Ms. Washington make for a likable couple, and a different, better movie could have chronicled the social pressures generated by their relationship.

Unfortunately, this one is stuck in generic B-movie land, in which performers as engaging as these three can be readily sacrificed to phony set pieces, cheap psychological gamesmanship and brain-numbing plot points. Mr. LaBute might think movie has something to say about the racial tensions brewing beneath the surface of even the most seemingly upscale, progressive neighborhoods. It doesn't. "Lakeview Terrace" does, however, teach two important lessons: Action scenes do not automatically make a movie better, and a screenplay can't effectively address real-life concerns if it's filled with convolutions.


Opens on Sept. 19 in the United States and on Dec. 5 in Britain.

Directed by Neil LaBute; written by David Loughery and Howard Korder, based on a story by Mr. Loughery; director of photography, Rogier Stoffers; edited by Joel Plotch; music by Mychael Danna and Jeff Danna; production designer, Bruton Jones; produced by James Lassiter and Will Smith; released by Screen Gems. Running time: 1 hour 46 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Samuel L. Jackson (Abel Turner), Patrick Wilson (Chris Mattson), Kerry Washington (Lisa Mattson) and Jay Hernandez (Javier Villareal).


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