Lakeview Terrace is the seventh film directed by playwright Neil LaBute
and it is, by a wide margin, the director's weakest effort to date. A domestic thriller built on brittle tension, the film brandishes racial conflict and flailing machismo before revealing that it has little insight into either topic. Depending on who you talk to, these facts are burdened or lightened by the appearance of the ever-ostentatious Samuel L Jackson
Set in an affluent corner of a Los Angeles suburb, Jackson enters the screen quietly as Abel Turner, a veteran member of the LAPD. On any given day Abel is either the best parent and neighbor you've ever met, or a lumbering, blue nightmare. The latter opinion is that of Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson
and Kerry Washington
), a young, interracial couple from Chicago who have just bought the house next to Turner's. She designs clothing while he works for an all-natural supermarket chain named Good. Abel isn't fond of seeing a pretty black woman with a white boy, but his bigger problems are with domestic decorum. Article continues below
Chris indulges in rap music, flicking cigarette butts and making time with his wife in their pool, in plain sight of Abel's teenage children (Regine Nehy and Jaishon Fisher). Seeing his daughter practicing her booty-shaking in front of Lisa is even worse. These mild neighborhood improprieties are elevated and, eventually, lead to severe bouts of violence. The situation becomes grimmer when Lisa announces a pending child and Abel is put on suspension for teaching a random young man a lesson in paternal responsibility at gunpoint.
Lakeview Terrace wants so badly to be about everything that it can't settle on pronouncing a single idea coherently. It's a playful concept at first but screenwriters David Loughery and Howard Korder are much too busy trying to be serious to see the satire they might have constructed. Almost every exchange plays towards something controversial, but these thematic teases never lead anywhere. The ever-present indecision levels any intrigue the film might have produced and it makes LaBute's love for blunt, awkward exchanges, typified here by a row between Abel and some of the Mattson's Blue State friends, seem jagged and unearned.
LaBute unconvincingly tries to explain away Abel through almost every possible reasoning. At one point he's in love with Lisa, at another he's a scorned widower whose wife was fooling around with her white boss, and at another point he's just a bitchy cop hiding behind the Blue Wall. Plenty of good films have been made about the bad things cops get away with because they're cops, but they have all shared a focus on the topic. By the third quarter of the film, things have fallen into such a state of disarray that the audience could be accused of rubbernecking.
Samuel L. Jackson is a born scene-stealer. He's so adept at it, in fact, that he even chews up scenes that have nothing to left to eat in them. He shouts, squints his eyes, and then calms his voice to a low, calculated threat. His ferocity has nowhere to go in Lakeview Terrace, constantly finding the actor at odds with a film too arbitrary to even care about. Even as able co-stars Washington and Wilson match his intensity, there's a feeling that the actor is overcompensating. Jackson stands like a tornado in a desert: feral, aimless, and very lonely.