Not so easy to love thy neighbor in lakeview terrace
An old Arabian proverb says, “Choose the neighbor before choosing the house.”
Like most young and upwardly mobile Los Angelinos, Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Willson and Kerry Washington) likely aren’t aware of such sage advice. Even if they were, there would be no way to know they were moving next to a nightmare.
Few actors can terrify like Samuel L. Jackson, with his bulging glare and looming stature. In “Lakeview Terrace” he has other qualities that make him unnerving, yet believably sympathetic. As single dad and veteran L.A. cop Abel Turner he seems at first oddly friendly toward his new neighbors, but things start to get ugly when Abel and his kids spy the interracial couple doing more than, uh, the dogpaddle in their within-view swimming pool.
The film’s success relies on the plausibility of the mounting tension as Abel’s exchanges with the couple become more invasive and dangerous. The racial undertones complicate and heighten our interest. Chris continues to respond to Abel’s passive/aggressiveness almost out of a sense of Caucasian duty. Exploiting Chris’s vulnerability and understanding the power of his badge, Abel’s taunting exposes his own inner turmoil until things spin out of control with an escalating suburban fire thrown in for effective atmosphere.
Though much of talented director Neil Labute’s previous work-most notably “In the Company of Men” and “The Shape of Things”-examines the dark fringes of human emotion (some would say in an exploitative way), it’s the first time he’s done so within the framework of a conventional “B” movie. And if the rather rote ending feels unfulfilling, the story and especially Jackson’s menacing performance are compelling enough. Fans of early 90s films “Pacific Heights” and “Unlawful Entry” will notice similar levels of intelligence and suspense.
(Reviewer’s Note: Having been a resident of Lakeview Terrace –A San Fernando Valley suburb known mostly as the site of the Rodney King beating in 1991– it was interesting to learn this movie was actually filmed in Walnut, Ca., a small community in southeastern Los Angeles county.)
Rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, violence, sexuality, language and some drug references.