At the Quality 16 and Showcase
1.5 out of 5 stars
“Lakeview Terrace” would like to be a thriller, an action film and a thought-provoking drama all in one. Unfortunately, it’s a muddled combination of the three.
A young, attractive interracial couple — Chris (Patrick Wilson, “Little Children”) and Lisa (Kerry Washington, “Last King of Scotland”) — move into a suburban California neighborhood, next to Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson, “Snakes on a Plane”), an LAPD officer who seems to take an instant disliking to the couple. At first, his hostility seems relatively harmless — a derisive comment here and there, an uncomfortably antagonistic attitude at a housewarming party — but then it steadily gets worse, and, soon, he’s harassing the couple to send a message.
What is that message, exactly? Well, Abel seems to disapprove of the couple for the mere fact that they’re interracial. But there is, not surprisingly, more to Abel’s animosity than he actually lets on. Unfortunately, because the film takes an impossibly long time to clarify Abel’s hatred, which is delivered in such a pathetically manipulative way, the audience is devoid of sympathy for Abel and only left with one thought: Why is this horrible man doing horrible things to these poor people?
The word “subtle” can hardly be applied to Jackson when it comes to his acting — and not just in this film. In every performance of his, every word is yelled and every intense look is drawn out and over the top. When he’s forced to shout lines like, “You can’t shoot me, I’m the po-leece!” and “You didn’t ask my permission to plant these!” it’s clear this role was written for him. Several scenes require Jackson to simply stare out the window or over the fence with a menacing expression for unbearably long lengths of time.
Undoubtedly, the man is terrifying. But the rest of the characters don’t seem to realize this, and the couple’s neighbors continually reassure them that they couldn’t be safer than living next door to a cop. Yet, as Abel’s behavior gets odder and even dangerous, the rest of the neighborhood seems to remain in relative obliviousness to it despite the fact that much of what he does would affect the rest of the neighborhood as well. (You’d think someone else would be a little unhappy with a raucous bachelor party going on until 3 a.m. and security lights shining brightly from his house.)
The film’s ridiculous plot builds and builds (with the scene where Jackson and Wilson duel with potted plants being the most absurd), arriving at an absolutely ludicrous conclusion that fails to tie up all the film’s loose ends.
Is “Lakeview Terrace” about race, or is it simply a warning to suburban homeowners to play nice with their neighbors? Race is certainly an issue here, but it’s unclear as to what the film wants to say about this subject — perhaps that it’s wrong no matter where it’s coming from? In a more focused film, Abel’s reasoning would have been explored, rather than being treated as a mere plot point. But as is, the film is a weak thriller that could’ve, and should’ve, been something more.