Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Movie review: Lakeview Terrace
Lest anyone doubt my highfalutin snobbery when it comes to what I consider to be a good flick, let me state right off the bat that my expectations for Lakeview Terrace, the latest effort of director Neil LaBute, were fairly low. I learned long ago that having a respected actor like Samuel L. Jackson at the top of the bill is no indication of quality. And the flick's vacuous title and ridiculous tag line ("What could be safer than living next to a cop?") just scream "Yuppie date movie!" I fully expected to forget this movie by the time we got our hors d'oeuvres at the post-viewing dinner.
And so indeed, it was.
Patrick Wilson) and Lisa (Kerry Washington) Mattson, an interracial couple that has just purchased a home in Lakeview Terrace, a development outside Los Angeles. The Mattsons are excited about their new "starter" home, fully equipped with patio hot tub and swimming pool, and overlooking a beautiful arroyo. (Starter home? In LA County? Yeah, right!)
Their next-door neighbor is Abel Turner (Jackson), an LAPD officer, a widower, and a single parent to two teenagers. Turner, it seems, is vaguely offended at the Mattson's deviation from racial integrity and sets about making their lives miserable. As the Mattsons contend with Turner, they must also face issues about starting a family, disapproving parents, and finding common goals... in short, the same issues that couples everywhere must face.
The story progresses predictably enough, starting with the tit-for-tat exchanges typical between feuding neighbors and escalating to the contrived and highly improbable climax. A little gun play, a little melodrama, everything turns out fine in the end.
By portraying an interracial couple, the flick had the opportunity to examine an important facet of our societal mores. But Lakeview Terrace only flirts with controversy. It never deals with racism or the challenges faced by mixed-race couples in a substantive way. It is as if LaBute approaches the subject, then loses his nerve and pulls back before anything too heavy taxes the collective intellect of his audience.
For example, the male element of the interracial marriage is white. This diminishes the gravity of the situation, does it not? After all, say what one will, a black man marrying a white woman raises a lot more eyebrows, even in today's society, than does the inverse.
Further, the antagonist, the closed-minded throwback to the age of connubial segregation, is black. That just doesn't carry the same menace as a gun-toting redneck trying to resurrect the spirit of Dixie, does it?
LaBute's film is further diminished by the Utopian constructs with which he seeds the film: The Mattson's new neighborhood, Lakeview Terrace, is racially-integrated and well-to-do. Apart from Abel Turner, its denizens are open-minded, educated, upwardly mobile. In short, it is a vision of the ideal suburban America, where the most serious problems one faces are brush fires and irksome neighbors.
The characters are thinly developed, requiring the viewers to fill in the blanks themselves. The script certainly doesn't manage it. The cinematography and the acting are competent, but unspectacular.
I suppose LaBute's film is fine, when you consider its intended audience. It's a date movie. A 110-minute diversion. No heavy stuff. Just a mildly entertaining flick.
Maty and I decided to go view this barker largely because the story revolved around an interracial couple. (After all, we're an interracial couple.) There were at least two other such couples in the sparse audience at the showing we attended.
I can't recommend the film if you're looking for something to chew on, to mull over, to challenge you. But, you know, if the wife will like it... sometimes that's good enough.