Twenty minutes into the new film Lakeview Terrace, I wrote in my notes, â€œIs this a â€˜neighbor from hellâ€™ story? I hate those.â€ Yes it is, and yes I do. The movie tries to trick us at the beginning, since the first person we meet is Abel Hunter (an expectedly strong performance from Samuel L. Jackson). Thatâ€™s significant because usually the first character in a narrative is our hero, and Abel doesnâ€™t seem like a villain. Initially, at least, heâ€™s a strict but loving father. But when the interracial couple Chris (a surprisingly good Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (the always welcome but unfortunately underutilized Kerry Washington) move in next door, Abel quickly turns into the nastiest s.o.b. whoâ€™d ever show up at your housewarming party.
There are the consistent, not-so-subtle digs about Chris being white. The security lights shining in Chris and Lisaâ€™s bedroom. Their air conditioning mysteriously breaking down. And thatâ€™s all in the first act. Before long, Abel is flaunting the immunity he has from being a cop, cutting down their trees, and sexually humiliating Chris at a bachelor party. If Lisa had a dog, itâ€™d be a goner.
The movie wants to say something about race, particularly how black men can feel threatened by interracial relationships. But Abelâ€™s character is so punitive that we quickly come to hate the way he consistently pushes Chrisâ€™s buttons, and the backstory the script provides for Abel is no excuse. Besides, director Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men) has never been known for his subtlety.
Even those flaws canâ€™t prepare you for the ludicrously awful last twenty-five minutes, which combine a wildfire, several guns, and a well-timed ringing cell phone. That the movie has the gall to arbitrarily gloss over its one interesting conflict is indicative of the filmâ€™s bankruptcy.