If there is one thing that can be said with certainty when it comes to Neil LaBute’s Lakeview Terrace, it’s that it’s not as certifiably awful as it appeared it might be. Any excitement I might have had about watching the movie left when I saw the trailer, which made it look like the film was going to be nothing more than a dull domestic thriller centered on when the tribulations of the upper-middle class turn violent. Then there was the cast that, aside from Samuel L. Jackson, is made up of low-wattage names and the possibility that the movie might be similar to LaBute’s last film, the laughably bad remake of The Wicker Man (2006). All in all, it was hard to find much to get wound up about—especially since there was no sign of Jackson in a bear suit.
So call me flabbergasted to find out that, for the most part, Lakeview Terrace is actually entertaining. I say “for the most part” since the movie does ultimately turn into the generic thriller the trailer threatened it might be. This also means the film turns into a disappointment instead of the surprise it could’ve been, since whatever it had on its mind goes down in a blaze of histrionics due to no one seeming to know what to do with the potentially incendiary topics the movie puts forth.
Jackson plays Abel, a longtime Los Angeles cop and a strict taskmaster of a single father (he won’t let his son wear a Kobe Bryant jersey because “they”—as a family—decided not “to promote him”). Abel and his son live in a somewhat affluent neighborhood in L.A. County. When a young, newly married, interracial couple, Chris (Patrick Wilson, Evening) and Lisa (Kerry Washington, I Think I Love My Wife), move next door, Abel is none too pleased. It quickly becomes obvious that Abel’s problems with the two boil down to the fact that they are in an interracial relationship (symbolized in a heavy-handed manner by an encroaching California wildfire). This is only exacerbated by Chris’ über-middle-class white-male lifestyle: He drives a Prius, smokes organic cigarettes and works for a health-food chain.
LaBute attempts to act as provocateur as a means of examining race by using the tensions between the neighbors, Abel’s abuse of power as a cop and his overall terrorization (both mental and physical) of Chris and Lisa. But it becomes apparent that LaBute has no idea where to go with the material when he tries to explain Abel’s racist proclivities through a single (though admittedly important) event. The movie finally spirals into a far-fetched, illogical climax. It all feels too simplistic to fit the complexity of the subjects being tackled, making Lakeview Terrace feel a bit too neat and tidy—not to mention generic.
It’s a pity, too, since the film’s ultimately forgettable nature wastes a good performance from Jackson. In many ways, he’s almost too good—well, at least in comparison to the rest of the cast—since he makes the nasty, racist, abusive cop the most enjoyable aspect of the movie. Even when he’s abusing his power (especially in one scene involving a violent, deadbeat criminal with a shotgun), he’s still Samuel L. Jackson, and he still oozes charisma. But let’s be honest, he’s made a career of being the best part of a lot of mediocre movies, so let’s just add Lakeview Terrace to the list. Rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, violence, sexuality, language and some drug references.