Lakeview Terrace

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 09/19/08 14:00:00

"Can't We All Just Look To The Cookie?"
3 stars (Average)

Lakeview Terace is a somewhat interesting amalgamation of the real world and the politics that come with the industry trying to fantasize it for our entertainment. Neil LaBute, known for his razor-edged battle of the sexes from the stage to the screen in titles like In the Company of Men and The Shape of Things, isn’t credited with writing the new film whose trailers suggest a standard issue harassment thriller. But right off you can sense the director exploring deeper issues about our society while a hyper-metaphorical brush fire is making its way through the Los Angeles area. As the flames get closer, you can sense the second act just itching for a backdraft, wanting to ditch all sanity and make with a mano-a-mano of violence instead of ideas. Instead, someone frequently takes a step back and issues an apology as if sensing our impatience in returning to the underlying complexity of the larger issues on display. By the final act, apologies are out the window, guns are drawn and faceoffs involve not debate but bullets seemingly providing no hope for our way of life but even less for the film itself. At least we’ll be distracted enough for most of its running time to kneejerk LaBute out of that misogynist corner he’s frequently accused of. Of course, there’s still strippers, a pregnant woman getting beaten and a 15 year-old slapped into her senses.

Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) is the law, on the streets and in his own home. He’s raising young Marcus (Jaishon Fisher) and teenage Celia (Regine Nehy) all on his own since his wife died and when he’s not trying to keep the streets safe in his police uniform, he’s doing nightly foot patrol in his cul-de-sac. New neighbors are moving in though. Chris & Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson & Kerry Washington) have just bought their first home. Their view includes a backrow seat for the smoke-laden area ravished by the wildfire and a frontrow one for the bright security lights from Abel’s home shining into their windows. While reasonable, Chris is hardly warming up to his new neighbor with his complaint, especially after flicking used cigarettes onto his property and providing his children with a birdseye view of the couple’s pool christening.

Abel makes no hesitation in reminding Chris how white he is and how black his wife is. Inappropriate ribbing aside, it’s clear he harbors some deep-seeded grudge against them and doesn’t want them living next door. While certainly less than subtle, Abel tries driving a wedge between the two rather than taking terrorizing to extreme movie levels. He even tells Chris straight out that this neighborhood doesn’t want them. Chris is getting it from all angles too, knowing full well that Lisa’s father (Ron Glass) hasn’t entirely given his blessing to this union. Abel hasn’t exactly endeared himself to Celia either who is tired of his rules and even the force is investigating some of his questionable “teaching” methods to the young punks he busts. Can’t we all just get along?

I’m not just introducing Rodney King colloquisms to be cute. Chris says the very words himself and Abel calls him on it. And when the conversation is allowed to flow, even when its wrong-headed and one-sided, Lakeview Terrace maintains a potency that promises to be a brainier thriller than the likes of such neighborly conflicts like Pacific Heights or the little seen CineVegas dud, Inside Out, with Steven Weber and Eriq LaSalle which seems like a nuttier first cousin to this. Lakeview doesn’t start as such though. From scene one, we appear to be watching a single dad doing his best to raise his kids in a society where, no matter their social standing, will always be playing second fiddle if they insist on perpetuating stereotypes and grammatical no-nos. We’re left to guess whether Abel’s anti-Kobe Bryant stance has more to do with his improper sexual moirés or falling behind on the championship ranks behind Shaq, but we’re not going to think of this guy as a potential psycho as long as he’s got kids. It’s when they’re sent with their aunt halfway through that you know trouble is about to get thick.

Keep going back to that first act though, which hits upon some very touchy elements about how we live without playing a four-of-a-kind of race cards or other such hot topic headline words. As an issue about privacy, Lakeview Terrace kicks off the kind of discussion you’ll begin exploring in your head well before Chris finally declares he’s had it with Abel. To what extent are we to live out our lives without worrying if we’re upsetting the status quo of other people’s standards? The question becomes rather moot once your neighbor begins setting up home invasions and pulling out his weapon though. The longer Lakeview Terrace goes on, the longer it begins to lose grips with its own reality and flaming metaphors. If Spike Lee can set Do The Right Thing on the hottest, most uncomfortable day of the year then its hard to begrudge LaBute for keeping his symbol a supporting character throughout. Society’s moirés, particularly that of a suburban setting, demand more subtlety though and unless he’s pushing towards a more uncomfortable truth about where we are headed (that would have resulted in a climax of shock and irony rather than justice), the evolution of the Jackson character, who appears to be no more unhinged than he was in the opening acts, is ultimately just silly.

And not silly in grand Wicker Man fashion. That was escalated over its final half-hour and included bear costumes, roundhousing women into walls and off-screen cries of pain not heard since Adam Sandler’s first album. AND featured zero apologies for it. Lakeview’s constant attempts to re-break bread between the neighbors works only as temporary relief from the direct-to-video-like thriller elements that keep interrupting the flow of the drama. While its easy to link-up LaBute’s Wicker Man remake as an extension of the sexual politics he’s made a career out of, we’d be stretching to suggest that Jackson’s Abel is the human rights advocator pushing buttons from the outside, trying to make amends with the white man when he goes too far and then finally getting a big “F.U.” for his efforts. Maybe at that point there are no solutions and LaBute figures that if Spike Lee can end his examination in violence then he may as well too. Lakeview Terrace waves bye-bye to such implications much earlier on than it should and that’s a shame because it would have been so nice to see such lofty reflections getting along in a thriller for mass consumption.

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