“Welcome to the neighborhood”

Alright, so that’s not exactly the welcome the Mattsons received when moving into Lakeview Terrace, but with Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) as a bigoted next door neighbor who has an interracial yuppie couple (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) move in next door, it’s easy to see where it’s headed even before the movie really gets going.  From the first time Abel mistakes Chris for a member of the moving crew to the shady look he gives him as he kisses his wife, to reminding the rap-loving Chris that he’ll always be white to… well, you get the idea.  Abel, to put it mildly, doesn’t like Chris or the thought of his interracial marriage, nor does the fact that he is a cigarette-smoking, liberal, college educated, Prius-driving, white collar worker really help his case with the blue collar, traditional and strict-as hell-Abel.  It is this racial/cultural conflict that drives Abel to start harassing Chris and his wife before they even have a chance to unpack.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that subtlety is director Neil LaBute’s strong suit and for about the first half of the movie, we’re reminded over… and over… and over again that this is a movie conflicting black and white, conservative and liberal (almost uncomfortably so at points) and most memorably during a house-warming party that was anything but.  What might’ve been a subtle but powerful theme of  racial/cultural differences and the ongoing challenge of interracial marriage is instead vastly overblown to the brink of absurdity and past, losing any point it was trying to make in the process.  By the time Lakeview Terrace started picking up steam, it actually caught me by surprise, as I had resigned myself to the latter issues for some time.

Truth be told, once it got going, it became a pretty entertaining movie.  Samuel L. has proven quite capable of carrying mediocre material into the decent category, and this was no exception.  As the narrow-minded, twisted, and utterly out-of-control Abel, Jackson easily convinces you of the instability that makes him such an intriguing villain, as I was never sure where his limits lied (if anywhere).  It was clear throughout that no aspect of his life was under control, be it was work, family or community.  The same was eventually made true of the Mattsons; what started off as a peaceful new beginning for them quickly spiraled out of control along the same lines, much thanks to Abel’s meddling in their lives.  While it created the chaos necessary to build to a climax, it also made the entire movie feel bleak, as though even if everything resolved in the end, only the utter wreckage of once-happy lives would remain.

While Jackson is strong, and Wilson and Washington both play their parts well enough to convince, the tension that was built throughout the entire movie doesn’t boil over as successfully as was intended, even if they blatantly tried to put an incoming wildfire climax to convince us otherwise.  Oftentimes during the concluding scenes, I found the suspense and anxiety less than convincing and despite my best efforts to be on the edge of my seat, it just wasn’t happening this time.  Lakeview Terrace certainly had its moments but the true great thrillers maintain the same edge throughout; here, it was found only in spurts.  Entertaining, to be sure, but what seemed like a promising premise and cast just wasn’t executed at anywhere above an average level for the drama.

For some racially charged moments, entertainment and some mild thrills, Lakeview Terrace delivers, but don’t expect anything incredible from the latest in a long line of B movie thrillers.

3 / 5 stars