March 31st, 2009


Movie Review: Lakeview Terrace

I always thought "Lakeview Terrace" had all the potential in the world to be a real formidable action/thriller. Then, it had to go and try to develop a conscience.

Right off, you know you're hurtin' when something like this is rated PG-13 instead of R. Let's face it, when you stoop to a PG-13 rating, that means you don't believe the movie is good enough on its own, so you're forced to clean it up a bit and hope that enough teenagers think it's a proper date movie to recoup your potential losses.

Secondly, I don't like Samuel L. Jackson's character. Of course, that's KINDA the point, because throughout the movie he wavers between being a prick to being a downright homicidal assface. Buuuuut, I think he could've been more.

Obviously, this guy's got a big hang-up with race. On its own, that's not very outrageous, lots of people have their issues with race. It's hard to tell if he just doesn't like white people because they've done so much to keep the black man down over the generations, or if he wants a completely different white/black state, keeping the races pure, and all the rest. But, either way, there's that. Which is fine. But then to also have him as a single father of two, a veteran of the LAPD, and a mourning widower ... what's that supposed to mean? Are we, as viewers, supposed to be conflicted in our feelings for this man?

They would've been better served to make him a full-on sociopath. Sure, we've read that book before, but at least it would've been more compelling. As it stands, he doesn't get his full hard-on for vengeance until his children are conveniently tucked away at an aunt's place for two weeks. That is what we like to call a "Plot Device".

Essentially, this movie is one long 105 minute argument between neighbors that eventually leads to bloodshed. The protagonists are these two married people - white husband, black wife - who move into this swanky neighborhood in the hills of Los Angeles; right next door to Samuel L. Jackson. We are supposed to feel sorry for these two because they're intelligent, liberal, young folks who haven't been given a chance by their bigot of a neighbor. Which, really, right off it would be more compelling and a better representation of America if the neighbor was a bigoted white man, but that's neither here nor there. Bottom line, Samuel L. Jackson proceeds to make their lives living hells without even trying (bright flood lights, snarky comments, exposing secret cigarette smokers).

If it ended there, you'd have yourself a generic, cookie-cutter action/thriller, where Samuel L. Jackson's violent tendencies start boiling over over the course of the film. But, the producers or whoever decided to give the antagonist a back-story, to try to make him a more rounded character and less of a comic book villain. He's got a dead wife who was killed in a head-on collision while she may or may not have been having an affair with her white boss. He's trying to raise his kids to respect themselves and avoid stereotypical African American cliches like wearing basketball jerseys or dancing around in skimpy outfits. He's a cop, and outside of having a bad attitude from time to time, he's not crooked or otherwise skimming from the top. He worked hard his whole life, bought that swanky house twenty years prior when it was still affordable on a cop's salary, and shit man, he does a one-man neighborhood watch every night before bed. The neighbors seem to like him an awful lot.

Just not the new folks.

This movie COULD have played up the Michigan J. Frog aspect, but somehow chose not to. By the way, that's where Samuel L. Jackson would be a vicious scumbag towards the new neighbors (or perhaps even just the husband) and sweet as pie towards everyone else. That's always interesting, when nobody believes you even though you're 100% right. Of course, that angle has been done to smithereens. This movie could have also played up the aspect of being a cop and being "untouchable". That would require the character to have a GOOD attitude while on the job, glowing commendations from his co-workers and superiors, and perhaps have saved a hospital full of dying kids from the AIDS virus or something. Then, when he wreaks havoc on his neighbors (or neighborhood), they'd have their cries for help go unheard, leaving them to seek justice from alternate means. But, again, smithereens.

What this movie SHOULD have done is play up the subtlety a little more. Let a mood sink in. Instead of having him be so outwardly jerk-ish, let him go on being evil-and-coy. Make the new neighbors live in terror by constantly worrying about what he MIGHT do. For instance, the slashing of the tires while the car is parked in the garage: nice touch. Fiddling with their air conditioning unit: there you go. More of that where we don't SEE what he's doing, but rather face his results while he stands in his own yard owning up to nothing.

The man, if he were smart, wouldn't have gone off the deep end so. And we wouldn't have had to dwell on the couple's quarrel over having a baby, or the husband's insecurity over being a white man married to a black woman, or Samuel L. Jackson's temporary banishment from the force due to Internal Affairs' meddling in an otherwise benign arrest. Ultimately leading to an arranged break-in that ultimately turns fatal.

It ends about as predictably as you'd expect. Which is too bad, because when I first spied the previews for this movie over a year ago, it looked like it had everything going for it. Hell, an evil Samuel L. Jackson is worth the price of admission right there! Too bad someone screwed the pooch and left this film an impotent pile of diarrhea on the kitchen tile.