Lakeview Terrace is the latest film that preys upon every homeowner’s worst fear — their neighbor is an off balance jackass with a chip on his or her shoulder. Taking that premise slightly further, the film’s nut-job also happens to be an angry black guy who also happens to be a decorated police officer.
The angry black cop is played by Samuel L. Jackson and he goes by the name of Abel Turner. He’s strict (just ask his son and daughter) and has the social skills of coarse sandpaper (just ask those in his neighborhood) but it’s clear he cares — he expects his kids to speak proper English and he’s taken it upon himself to be the neighborhood crime watch. It also becomes clear rather quickly that he doesn’t like interracial couples. Someone should have warned Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) about his little pet peeve before they moved in next door to him.
As the film progresses, Abel slowly becomes more belligerent towards his new neighbors. First he shoots them dirty looks, then he doesn’t turn off his bright security lights that shine into their bedroom. When they don’t get the message, he next breaks the couple’s air conditioning unit (they’re in southern California with wild fires nearing their homes), and then slashes the tires on their environmentally friendly Prius. I’m not going to list all of Abel’s antics here, just know that they become increasingly grandiose until finally it leads to a predictable and absurd ending. It didn’t have to turn out that way though.
Director Neil LaBute (who has shown a glimmer of brilliance in In the Company of Men) could have easily kept Lakeview Terrace from falling into the cookie cutter thriller trap. He had Jackson performing in control and outside of his usual bellowing “motherfucker” persona that he’s become known for. LaBute could have dived further into the dark recesses of his character’s personalities and their circumstances to draw his drama and thrills. The writers, David Loughery and Howard Korder, should have explored Abel’s tortured persona further and had it rear its ugly head in devilish ways (something along the lines of a boiling bunny would have fit the bill). And as his neighbors begin to fight amongst themselves, I would have liked to see more, and better, attention paid to Chris and Lisa’s relationship, since it is eluded to cause so much grief to so many people in the movie.
But instead, three-quarters of the way through Lakeview Terrace, Jackson does indeed become what we expect him to be and the plot quickly unravels itself to be no better than a typical Hollywood drummed-up situational thriller. Kerry Washington, who has steadily been climbing the ranks (I liked her in I Think I Love My Wife), tries to keep her character out of the sewage for the entire film but when she gets caught in trumped up scenes involving the improbable use of guns there’s nothing she can do. Thankfully, she still looks damn good in those scenes, so the pain of sitting through them was greatly diminished.
So unfortunately, what could have been a really good movie turns out to be little more than average fare — the final forty minutes very nearly wipes away the first sixty. I can only recommend this film if you’re going to watch it in the comfort of your own home. I’d then recommend watching it with your neighbors so you can kindly remind them how good they’ve got it living next to you.