Lakeview Terrace is a film perfectly delivered in its trailer. The story, characters, plot drifts, and eventual outcome are all relayed brilliantly in the highlight reel, and that’s all that ever should have been made. At the end of the preview you are in exactly the same place as at the end of the entire film, and it isn’t an interesting place to be in any case.
The story begins with Chris and Lisa Mattson moving into a new home. They’re an interracial couple, a fact will serve its purpose. Their new neighbor, Abel, is a cop, and he’s quite the racist. He makes no bones about his opinions, and only slightly disguises his dislike for the happy couple. The spin is that he’s African-American. His views are handed out pretty simply, and he engages in a variety of forms of harassment designed to get the Mattson’s to think better of their new home.
The movie plays out in the most straightforward way imaginable. There are a few tangents here and there which are meant to develop the characters, but they are pointless showcases of caricature rather than character, and ultimately serve only to display the film’s delusions of grandeur. Our happy couple is not quite perfectly happy, but in the most boring and tedious way. It would be difficult to take a movie seriously if two out of three main characters were not fleshed out at all, so they must have some problems thrown in. Thus, they disagree on when to start expanding the family, and Chris sneaks cigarettes. Voila, they’re interesting.
Samuel L. Jackson, as the racist neighbor, has his character given lots of depth as well. His racism may or may not be a result of something that may or may not have happened with his deceased wife. He’s also rather a nut in other ways as well. He’s not opposed to smacking criminals around on the job, and his service record isn’t quite glowing as a result. His kids find him rather a tyrant, and he’ll smack his daughter hard enough to knock her to the ground if he feels the need. Interestingly, the entire neighborhood has long known about his security light which shines into the Mattson home brighter than the sun. He didn’t put that up specifically to annoy them, he just doesn’t care who he annoys. Before long it’s pretty clear that racism isn’t actually that much of an issue here. It’s not the interracial couple vs. the racist next door, it’s just the interracial couple vs. the jackass next door.
While there might be a quality movie somewhere buried in this general mix, Lakeview Terrace can’t get solid footing on what it wants to be. It could go the route of a simple, tension experience along the lines of Pacific Heights (which this movie obviously thinks is miles better than it is), but Lakeview Terrace doesn’t have the sort of drive or pace that builds such tension. Everything plays out at a snail’s pace, and we are constantly breaking the flow with allegedly character-building plays. On the other hand, the film might have gone for some significant statement or moral effort built around an unnerving scenario. It seems this is where Lakeview Terrace is hoping to go, but the characters are lifeless, and what can the statement be? Crazy bastards suck? Racists come in all colors? Trying to give the movie a brain actually makes it worse, not better.
Whatever the film was trying to do, the result is that it was one of the most boring films I ever had to sit through. At the thirty-minute mark I wondered if it was ever going to start, and an excruciatingly long fifteen minutes later I wondered if it was ever going to end. When I got to 90 minutes and realized I had 20 left I began to wonder if the whole thing was some kind of wind up.
There is some strong acting, especially by Patrick Wilson, who puts together a very believable turn at ‘increasingly irritated and befuddled by psycho neighbor,’ but the performances don’t pull anything together given the material. It also probably isn’t far off to say that director Neil LaBute knows how to work tension into a scene, but it doesn’t matter. The tension has nothing to play off of, and the whole movie ends up running like a Saturday Night Live skit that goes on about twenty minutes to long. Sure, the audience is getting rather uncomfortable, but you wouldn’t be inclined to say the fact served any purpose.
The DVD release has a pretty strong collection of special features, but they’re probably as wasted as the film itself. There are eight deleted scenes, some with director commentary, and the movie would have been better with most of them in. Those eight scenes include two versions of a confrontation between Able and Lisa, neither of which ended up in the final cut. It’s actually a very telling decision, because the person who leaves this scene out in favor of any number of yawn-inducing minutes of uselessness just doesn’t know what they’re doing. Those scenes are conveniently without commentary.
The DVD also includes three featurettes, but this is sort of play at upselling things. It’s pretty clear that this is just a single, twenty-minute featurette which was cut into three to make it look there are more features. The three are entitled “An Open House,” “Meet Your Neighbors,” and “Home Sweet Home,” and it really is painfully obvious that they were once one entity. The featurettes offer a fairly random assortment of behind-the-scenes snippets, and short bursts of interviews with the cast and crew. Unfortunately, there is little of value, and what goes beyond pure fluff and filler is mostly the director talking himself up.
The final special feature of the disc is a commentary track with director Neil LaBute and lead actress Kerry Washington. The feature has its pros and cons. On the one hand, there’s no need for further insight into the film, and Neil LaBute is hardly going to give you any. On the plus side, he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to putting shots together, and moving a scene to create a mood. In fact, one of the great positives of the commentary is perhaps just that one can get a solid footing on the idea that putting together individual scenes pretty well does not add up to a movie. There are a few worthwhile exchanges between LaBute and Washington, and overall the creation of the film seems to have been far more interesting than the film itself. I’m a fan of commentary tracks generally, but sitting through a commentary track for the most boring movie to come along in years is hardly a big sell for a DVD.