The Boy Next Door

Before I trudged along to see The Boy Next Door, I had zero expectations. It’s been over a decade since Jennifer Lopez was in anything remotely interesting, while reading through Rob Cohen’s resume reminds you that he’s simply a tepid version of Michael Bay. Which means that he’s Michael Bay without any of the fun. And that’s something that no director wants to be.

Then of course there’s the premise of The Boy Next Door, and the fact that it falls within the realms of the erotic thriller genre. Jennifer Lopez stars as Claire Peterson, a teacher at her teenage son’s school who is adjusting to being a single mom after separating from her cheating husband (John Corbett). Claire Peterson caught him cheating with his secretary, but now it’s 9 months later and she is on the verge of bringing him back into the marital home.

This is where Ryan Guzman’s Noah Sandborn comes in. Noah, with his bustling biceps and toned abs in tow, moves in next door to the Petersons to assist his dying uncle. However, he soon begins to develop a friendship with Kevin Peterson, Claire’s son, while also building an intimate bond with Claire. After a bad date, too many glasses of wine and an undercooked chicken, Claire and Noah end up doing the no pants dance. She instantly regrets it. He becomes a psychotic lovelorn, and The Boy Next Door then hits something of a stride.

The erotic thriller is almost an impossible genre to master. Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction, The Piano Teacher and Body Double have toed the line between sexy and thrilling perfectly. But then the likes of Body Of Evidence, Showgirls and Body Chemistry prove just how easy it is to make these films laughably cheesy.

The Boy Next Door actually falls into both of these categories. It sways from being laugh-out-loud turgid in its opening half an hour before then progressing to genuinely thrilling, drawing upon traits from classics of the genre for sustenance. The Boy Next Door basically sacrifices its first act to set up the run-of-the-mill storylines that are wrecked once Noah’s insanity is revealed. There’s scenes involving a seemingly unattainable high-school crush, gregarious bullying, while preposterously flirty antics are missed by everyone, even though they’re happening right in front of their eyes.

Meanwhile Jennifer Lopez, who bravely plays on her reputation as a cougar even though she is The Boy Next Door’s producer, is permanently showing off her cleavage. There’s even a scene featuring Ryan Guzman that seems to have been ripped straight out of a Diet Coke commercial.

But once Noah Sanborn’s increasingly erratic and bizarre antics start to unfold, you can’t help but find yourself increasingly lulled in. Guzman does well as the manipulating villain, keeping him just about believable even though the character is ghastly underwritten and lacks plausible motivation. Meanwhile, Lopez does struggle with the hammy lines that she needs to deliver, but when she is required to be sexy, strong or shaken, she steps up to the plate and reminds everyone of the talent that we haven’t seen for an entire movie since Out Of Sight.

Even director Rob Cohen doesn’t end up ruining The Boy Next Door. His over-the-top style sometimes grates and jolts, but there are other occasions when the camera is perfectly placed to create tension and suspense. And as the final act progresses in the predictable, yet enjoyable, manner that we all expected, he gruesomely ups the ante. Rob Cohen even ends The Boy Next Door promptly, making sure that it doesn’t outstay its welcome or tediously linger.

Nevertheless The Boy Next Door is still cheap, brainless and trashy. But that’s all it wants to be. It’s also, despite its hackneyed and clichéd plot, sexy and thrilling too. It’s not great. But it’s also not bad. And, in the end, that feels like a win.

Gregory Wakeman