Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Samuel L. Jackson doesn't know how to give a bad performance, but his choice of movies raises some questions. "Wicker Man" director Neil LeBute's suburban crime thriller "Lakeview Terrace" (* out of ****) qualifies as a predictable, PG-rated melodrama that draws its inspiration from a real-life case of racism where an African-American cop harassed interracial couples in Los Angeles. This disposable,depressing, one-dimensional character study in villainy casts Jackson as a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who doesn't cotton to his new next door neighbors, a twentysomething interracial couple without a clue. For the record, "Hancock" star Will Smith sank some of his dough into this heavy-handed hokum.

Chris (Patrick Wilson of "Hard Candy") and Lisa Mattson (Kerry Washington of "Ray") have just bought their first house. Chris manages a grocery store and Lisa sits around the house drawing pictures when she isn't forgetting to take her birth control pills. She wants a child to mellow out her racist father Harold Perreau (Ron Glass of "Barney Miller") who didn't approve of her daughter's decision to marry a white bread yuppie. Movies have come a long way since the 1967 classic "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" where Sidney Poitier married a white girl. Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac appeared in the abysmal remake "Guess Who" that reversed everything so that white guy Kutcher could wed black girl Zoe Saldana. Everybody got along in these classic as well as less-than-classic movies. No sooner have Chris and Lisa moved in than they aggravate single-parent cop Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson of "Pulp Fiction") who doesn't take kindly to their liberal-minded antics.

Abel raises teenager daughter Celia (Regine Nehy of "Pride") and young son Marcus (TV actor Jasihon Fisher) without the benefit of a mother. Abel reveals later to Chris that his wife died in a traffic accident under suspicious circumstances that he hasn't quite reconciled himself to three years later. Abel rules his kids like a tyrant. Not only does he correct Celia's slang-ridden grammar at the breakfast table but he also reprimands her for wearing her iPod every waking moment. Similarly, he doesn't cut Marcus any slack. Not surprisingly, both Celia and Marcus are overjoyed when they get a break from dad to spend time with a relative. Meanwhile, Abel explains to his green, Hispanic partner Javier Villareal (Jay Hernandez of the "Hostel" horror flicks) that he moved his family out of the troubled ghettos where he grew up so that they would have a better life. Abel keeps a tight lid on his patrol area, just as most cops in crime movies do, playing criminals off against other to maintain law and order. Abel has an obese white drug dealer Clarence (Keith Loneker of "Leatherheads") under his thumb and protects Clarence because he serves as an informant.

Abel and the Mattson's get off on the wrong foot. Abel welcomes Chris by pulling a fake carjacking while our protagonist sits in his parked car in his own driveway listening to hip-hop music. Afterward, Abel advises Chris that no matter how loud or how long he plays hip-hop it will never made him black. Chris smokes secretly in his car because Lisa won't let him smoke in their house. He aggravates things when he thumps his cigarette butts on Abel's lawn. Abel's blinding security home lights keep the Mattsons from sleeping since they don't have curtains. Chris talks to Abel but gets nowhere. Things really derail because the Mattson's have a backyard swimming pool that Celia and Marcus would die to swim in but Abel doesn't want them hobnobbing with the neighbors. Anyway, the Abel's kids play peeping toms one evening when Chris and Lisa have sex in their swimming pool. Abel objects to this behavior and the incidents intensify. Our heroes awaken to their car alarm, rush down to their garage, and discover the tires on their sedan have been slashed. Abel discusses the situation with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Deputies who responded to the Mattson's call and a Sheriff's Deputy remarks that they are lucky because they live next door to a cop.

"Lakeview Terrace" shares a lot in common with the paranoid Michael Keaton thriller "Pacific Heights." No matter what our heroes do, Abel beats them to the punch, until his own people—LAPD Internal Affairs—give him the third degree for roughing up a young African-American male, Damon Richards (Jada Pinkett Smith's younger brother Caleeb Pinkett of "Charmed"), who tried to blast Abel with a pump action shotgun during a domestic disturbance at an apartment complex. Internal Affairs investigator Lieutenant Morgada (Eva La Rue of CBS-TV's "C.S.I. Miami") and her colleague warn Abel that they are watching him.

Jackson smolders with rage in this combustible movie because he doesn't approve of a white guy playing house with a black girl. Jackson's performance is about the only thing worth watching because his co-stars barely make an impression as a sympathetic couple that have to contend with his cruel shenanigans. Indeed, the sympathetic couple are pretty boring. Since the bad cop doesn't have a moral leg to stand on, it is just a matter of time until he makes his fatal mistake. In other words, the short-sighted David Loughery and Howard Korder's screenplay boasts few surprises. Loughery's less-than-impressive writing credits include "Money Train" and "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier," while Howard Korder has penned the TV movie "Stealing Sinatra" and "The Passion of Ayn Rand." None of their screenplays have amounted to much so it's no surprise that "Lakeview Terrace" is such a woofer. Basically, neither director Neil LeBute nor his scenarists have brought a shred of imagination to a potentially explosive but superficial saga. If you've seen the trailer for "Lakeview Terrace," you've seen more than enough to know that this objectionable opus is worth neither your time nor your money.

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