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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Lakeview Terrace

The best thing about Lakeview Terrace was that, for once, when a nasty bully is raising hell to get his neighbor out from next door it isn’t me on the receiving end. I’m just kidding, of course. I’ve always had wonderful neighbors. When I was in high school, for instance, the woman who lived to the house on the left of our family was a famous actress who wore a prosthetic hand when she was on-screen (and no one ever noticed). She had lost her own appendage when she was living in Florida and accidently stuck it in the mouth of an alligator that was lurking in her backyard garden. Ever since then I’ve taken it as a sign that it just isn’t safe to reach out to pick a few flowers, even in Vermont. You never know what’s out there.

Later, when I first graduated from college, I moved into an apartment building with a notorious reputation I knew nothing about until after I had settled in and the ink on the lease was dry; the building was in fact called The Tudor Arms, but apparently everybody in the city except me knew it better as Vaseline Flats. Needless to say, I met some very personable and eccentric neighbors there, including an “elevator nudist” named Melvin, who rode the lift without a stitch on for hours each day. At first I was shocked, but after a few encounters I realized there was very little to be worried about, very little indeed.

I’m sure Abel Turner wouldn’t approve. That’s the character Samuel L. Jackson (Jumper) plays in Lakeview Terrace, and you know there is nothing worse than pissing off Samuel L. Jackson because he will seriously cap your ass for no good reason. Just ask Chris Mattson (Patrick Wilson; Passengers). He and his wife, Lisa (Kerry Washington; Miracle at St. Anna) are the hapless young couple who buy their first home right next door to Turner. You know, for a “starter home” the Mattsons are doing pretty darn well. Chris works for a supermarket chain while Lisa is focusing on a project at home but isn’t getting paid, so I have to say that whatever supermarket Chris works for must be quite profitable because they are living quite large for newlyweds who refused financial help from their parents. The homes in Lakeside Terrace are nestled in the hills overlooking Los Angeles (though no lake appears in sight), and each must easily be in the million dollars or more range. For this reason alone, the Mattsons are rightfully thrilled to have gotten their mortgage approved and have settled in. That’s when the trouble begins.

Abel is an awfully stern single parent with lots of rules, not just for his teenage daughter Celia (Regine Nehy; Boot Camp) and ‘tween son Marcus (Jaishon Fisher; The Ant Bully). He is a rigid police officer that rules the streets with the same moral self-righteousness he expects at home and of his friends, colleagues, and neighbors. When he sees the Mattsons in a “compromising position” in their swimming pool one night after his kids had been giggling at the scene through their upstairs bedroom window, the war truly begins, and soon a series of unfortunate incidents befall the new residents on the street. For Chris, the culprit behind the acts of vandalism is obvious, but for Lisa it is not so cut-and-dried, so she urges her husband to try his best to make a friend of the pushy policeman.

Unfortunately, the nicer Chris tries to be, the more Abel fumes until finally his rage spills out and then the game is on big-time. What happens at that point is where the tension rises exponentially every time we see Abel make an appearance. The trouble with the Mattsons is that even though they know Abel is growing more dangerous and crazy with each day they do nothing to protect themselves. Me? I’d be calling on Kevin McCallister, the Home Alone kid, to come up with some great ways to mess with Turner if he tried to cross my threshold. I know enough about Samuel L. Jackson to figure the best way to drive him meshuga is to drop a bucketful of snakes on his head. We all know how he feels about snakes.

Lakeside Terrace is a great “B” movie based entirely on two things: Jackson and the awkward topic of race, which is barely spoken about in the movie even though it is the heart of what drives the reason behind what has Abel hopping mad. You see, he is not very happy that Chris is a white guy and Lisa is black. Quell surprise! In Abel’s mind, that is just not okay, and not something he wants his children seeing as a potential relationship possibility for themselves in the future. It seems daddy is a bigot, m’kay? Oh, and he’s a weasely one at that; being a cop gives him the power of Blue on his side since all his pals down at the precinct are just naturally going to side with him if the Mattsons dare call to report a problem with their neighbor on the force.

Director Neil LaBute (The Wicker Man) manages
to make an upscale cul-de-sac look plush while simultaneously making his whole movie look cheap, which must be considered a skill in somebody’s eyes. The homes may be McMansions on the outside, but the indoor sets appear to be dressed by a decorator for the porn industry. Imagine the worst John Waters’ film you’ve ever seen, and then think a few pay grades below that and you’ll have some idea what everything looks like. I’m sorry, but even K-Mart has better furnishings than what you’ll see at the Mattsons, and at the Turners’ it looks like the décor was done by Abel’s great grandmother and not by his late wife. When a brush fire threatens the development, it was all I could do not to scream out loud “Burn, Baby, Burn!” because this is like ground zero for the kind of bad taste that did not naturally germinate in the 1970s and come in Harvest Gold, Burnt Orange or Avocado.

The one big flaw I have with Lakeview Terrace is that it tries to justify Abel’s actions with a scene between Turner and Chris in a tacky bar that I find extremely hard to believe would exist within three zip codes around their upscale ‘hood. It’s not the bar so much that bugs me as the fact that writers David Loughery (Tom and Huck) and Howard Korder (Bad Apple) feel compelled to give their psycho cop a (sniffle) reasonable excuse for his bitter behavior (sort of) instead of just letting him be a complete whack-job. I prefer my evil nut-jobs to have absolutely no redeeming value, which may explain my lurid secret attraction to Dick Cheney, but that is a whole other story for another time.

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