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Lakeview Terrace

Movie title: Lakeview Terrace (2008)
Grade: D- (1 star)
Rated: PG-13
Director: Neil LaBute
Producers: James Lassiter, Will Smith, Orin Woinsky, (Exec.) John Cameron, (Exec.) Jeffrey Graup, (Exec.) David Loughery, (Exec.) Joe Pichirallo
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson “Able Turner,” Patrick Wilson “Chris Mattson,” Kerry Washington “Lisa Mattson,” Ron Glass “Harold Perreau,” Justin Chambers “Donnie Eaton,” Jay Hernandez “Javier Villareal,” Regine Nehy “Celia Turner,” Jaishon Fisher “Marcus Turner”
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Summation: An LAPD officer will stop at nothing to force out an interracial couple who moved in next door.
Spoilers ahead: No
In a word: Overdone

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Seeing the previews for this one had me hooked. The plot was so enticing. I mean, who can’t relate to a movie about corrupt law enforcement? The corruption and downfall of those in power is a favorite theme for sure, and the idea behind the story is just awesome. It had all the ingredients to be a good movie. And the intriguing thought is: Isn’t living next door to a cop the safest thing? Not in this case! As cool as it sounds, however, Lakeview Terrace bites the bullet from bad writing. It wasn’t long into the film until I was compelled to adopt the conviction that the previews were actually way better than the movie itself.

The messages of the film are so very simple, and that ends up being a problem if you like deep, thought-provoking entertainment. But on the other hand, if you want a simple movie, a movie where everything is right on the surface, then you’ll probably like it. There are no subtle messages, no clever under-themes or clues, no plot-twists, nothing but a bare bones presentation of an interracial couple living next door to a bad cop who hates them. The message is that corruption can come in any form and from anyone. Okay, we get it! It’s as obvious as a billboard!

The film capitalizes on the angering theme of racism, but like everything else in the film, even the racism element is overplayed. Think about it; what do racist neighbors do? Even the outspoken ones are usually introverted racists and are so known by letting little things slip over time. They give you bad looks when they see you out in the yard, they don’t invite you over for a cocktail party when they invite most of the other neighbors on the block, they are rude and un-talkative, they make references to “your kind” and forbid their kids from having contact with you, but they seldom go as far as Samuel L. Jackson’s character (Abel Turner) does here. Suffice it to say, the things that happen (though certainly possible and not unheard of) are unlikely to go this far. But the racism in this film is so sprawled out and in-your-face that it becomes a somewhat hard sell. Lakeview Terrace is actually the place where Rodney King was beaten in 1993 and he is referenced in the film.

Mellow-dramatic is this movie – and overdone – making what could have been a wonderfully unique and suspenseful thriller into a half-baked cinematic flop without genuine suspense—I thought the mock news stories of the California wildfires were more interesting that much of the main course of the film. Throughout, you’ll find flat exchanges, like “we knew this would be hard,” and frustrating conversations where one spouse doubts the other one, but is never told the full details of a confrontation. While not bad, the dialogue is never spectacular. And nevermind the strained plot logistic of how an LA cop manages to afford the gorgeous California home that he and his kids live in!

Another question that comes to mind is why the couple didn’t simply go to the internal affairs bureau when harassed. In a day when the public servant aspect of police work is emphasized and police officers are being held to a much higher standard, Abel would have been called to answer for such behavior or at least investigated. To the film’s credit, it does portray Abel as being on the out-and-out with the force because of brutality allegations, which was fair and arguably in character. But the incident that sparked his being called into question was an overdone scene where Abel takes down a hostage-taking deadbeat dad. The directors just couldn’t resist the urge to have him beat the guy and then lecture him on being a good father. Ok, we get it! He’s an idealistic bigot too and it spills over into his work! Ok already!

The confessed reason for Abel’s hatred of his neighbors is way too much and rather ridiculous. Like the deadbeat dad element, Lakeview Terrace is full of contrived scenes, such as where Abel’s daughter comes over and dances to some hip-hop with Kerry Washington’s character (Lisa Mattson), but it isn’t hard to see that kids don’t act that way. The whole scene wreaks of being pulled together just to spark another incident with A-hole Abel. The latter half of the movie begins to heat up with the chain of events that leads to Abel’s undoing, but the ending of the movie is completely absurd. You’ll be saying, “No way he could be that dumb!”

The anger the film generates does give it some level of suspense, which keeps the viewer watching to see a resolution of the matter. Racism is the theme, and so if you’re not distracted by the overall deficiencies of the flick, you might get mad watching it. Personally, I was more annoyed with the failure of it, which is a shame because this could have been a great movie with the right directing. But as it is done, it leaves much to be desired.

(JH)

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