LAKEVIEW TERRACE - 2008
Overbrook Entertainment, Screen Gems
Rated: USA: PG-13
A man wakes up, rolls over in bed, and lifts a framed photograph of himself and a woman up into place. As we'll later discover, he sleeps with the photo down.
He goes through his daily routine, he makes his children breakfast, and we see his loving but stern nature toward them. His son comes to the table wearing a basketball Jersey of Kobe Bryant. The father, Samuel L. Jackson (THE EXORCIST III, JURASSIC PARK, SPHERE, DEEP BLUE SEA, UNBREAKABLE, KILL BILL Vol. 2, THE INCREDIBLES, SNAKES ON A PLANE, 1408) tells his son, Marcus (Jaishon Fisher) to go back to his room and put on another shirt. "We're Shaquille people now." Then he warns his daughter that, if she comes to the table wearing her earphones, listening to her music, and ignoring her family one more time, then her new ipod is gone. The daughter, Celia (Regine Nehy: BOOT CAMP) hates this but then, she's fifteen and in America, so she expects privilege.
Everything about this father, Abel Turner, speaks well of him. He takes care of his children, he makes the effort to give them a life, home, and discipline, everything is going well it seems, until his new neighbors move in. The wife, Lisa Mattson (Kerry Washington) is black like him and that's okay. Abel gets along well with his non-black neighbors too. But this new woman's husband, Chris (Patrick Wilson: HARD CANDY) is white, and this stirs Abel to anger. Able doesn't approve of racially mixed marriages. And Chris is not the best of neighbors as he unthinkingly flicks his cigarette butts into Abel's well manicured yard as he passes by.
Even worse for Abel, a widower, his own children are attracted to the young and happy couple; their seemingly idyllic life, and the apparent harmonious racial dynamic between the two of them. But racially mixed marriages aren't easy even in this day and age, especially in places like Southern California (Hoo boy! I could write a book!). Abel is a cop who works far from the safety of his home in the more violent and economically depressed Paramount. His partner is Javier Villareal (Jay Hernandez: HOSTEL, GRINDHOUSE), who is also in a racially mixed marriage with a black woman, but as Abel says,
"I have to work with them over there. But I live, here!"
Having an interracial couple as his next door neighbors hits Abel right where he lives in no uncertain terms. Abel lives his entire life in right or wrong, black and white, and we're not just talking race here. Abel's a damaged man who lost his wife six years ago, and the nature of her death has left a gaping grey area in his soul. A mystery he can never solve and can't stop questioning.
In the realm of "Bad Cop" movies, writers David Loughery (DREAMSCAPE) and Howard Korder start LAKEVIEW TERRACE off on all of the right notes. Abel isn't presented as some evil homicidal psychopath like Ray Liotta's character of Pete in UNLAWFUL ENTRY. And in the realm of "Bad Neighbor" movies, Abel isn't the homicidal con artist like Michael Keaton's Carter Hayes in PACIFIC HEIGHTS. I must admit though, that Chris is very much like Mathew Modine's character of Drake from that film. So much so that I winced a few times as I thought I detected the same words and the same actions coming from actor Patrick Wilson, that I'd heard out of actor Mathew Modine (true, memory may be failing me, but it was close enough to pull me out and draw comparisons).
Director Neil LaBute (THE WICKERMAN ), keeps a strong hold on the reigns, twisting the suspense tighter and tighter, nearly to an edge of your seat kind of thriller. The strands of Abel's professional life, Chris and Lisa's personal life, begin to wind around the two innocent lives of Abel's children, who are caught between their father and their fascination with the new neighbors.
Then, inexplicably, the children, who have been drawn as the focal point (everything is about what Abel doesn't want his "children" exposed to) and impetus (Abel grows angrier and more violent as he sees his children attracted to the new neighbors), are removed from the movie to go visit their aunt. And just like that, the movie switches paddles midstream to become an entirely different movie. The story, as laid out in the first half, was Abel Turner torn between his bigoted anger over his new neighbors and tempering his rage for the sake of his children. It was not about him going psycho. But the switch is flicked, Abel goes off the deep end, and Merry Mishaps ensue.
Which is why I felt that the ending was a cheat: betraying all that had come before as it as it cuts an entire chunk of compelling story out to force a change in Abel's character halfway through the movie. And this was apparently done in order to facilitate a Hollywood sappy ending of good triumphing over evil: simplistic black and white after the movie already made the point that such thinking was wrong and Abel was wrong for it. Chris was also an insincere jerk who walked over other people's space without a second thought. He lies to his wife, throws trash in his neighbor's yard and gets upset when someone else, like Abel, treats him with the same discourtesy. When Abel confronts Chris for throwing his cigarettes in Abel's yard, Chris expects an apology from Abel for being so "uncool" as to bring up the subject in front of Lisa, thereby exposing Chris' lies.
Unlike Abel, Chris isn't racist rude, but he's still rude, self-absorbed, inconsiderate, and irresponsible in regard to the safety of the wife he leaves home alone during the day: a situation he suspects may put her in danger. When his father-in-law, Harrold (Ron Glass: SERENITY) points out this very thing, Chris gets in a huff, chooses to doll up the moment as a race thing instead of owning up to his marital obligations, and walks off. The biggest difference between Abel and Chris is, Abel - through career choice and character - has the ability to back up his transgressions with force, and Chris is forced - by career choice and character - to back down from his. Unlike Chris, Abel would never allow his children to be in harm's way. Which makes their convenient removal to Auntie's farm all the stranger. It allows for Abel's uncharacteristic and cartoonish descent into evil, even though he's wound tight enough to realize the repercussions his actions could have on his children, even from a distance.
LAKEVIEW TERRACE had a fascinating start and had the potential to be a thought provoking, suspense filled character study, as well as a commentary on race in modern America - and it was for the first part. Too bad the producing team of James Lassiter (I, ROBOT, I AM LEGEND) and Will Smith (I, ROBOT) chose to flip to a comic book revenge flick in the second part.
Three barely earned Shriek Girls.
This review copyright 2008 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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