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THE BOY NEXT DOOR
February 25, 2015
The Boy Next Door is a return to the glossy erotic thrillers of the early 1990s, popularised by the likes of Basic Instinct (1992) and the Bruce Willis camp classic Color of Night (1994). The story sees a high school teacher (Jennifer Lopez) in the midst of a painful separation from her cheating husband. Feeling lonely and vulnerable, she starts to fall for the considerable charms of her hunky new next door neighbour (Ryan Guzman).
He’s handsome, polite, thoughtful and he makes a great new friend for her shy teenage son. She ends up having a drunken one night stand with him, but when she rejects his further advances he gets angry. He starts stalking her and playing mind games, and as she investigates his past, she begins to realise the very real danger that she, and her family, are in.
When confronted with a movie as shamelessly dumb and trashy as The Boy Next Door you have two options: roll your eyes and endure the parade of clichés and terrible dialogue or embrace the stupidity and enjoy the ride. Director Rob Cohen, formerly of big budget blockbusters like the very first The Fast and the Furious (2001) and Stealth (2005), seemed to realise he was fighting a losing battle making a serious thriller out of such hackneyed material. So rather than having people laugh at it, he wants them to laugh with it.
So it’s to his credit that he goes for the high camp factor, filming with tongue firmly in cheek. Scenes with ridiculous dialogue and character actions are shot with a completely straight face, and there’s a surprising amount of laughs mined from this approach. For example, Lopez’s character is a literature professor and bookworm, so she swoons when her hunky neighbour presents her with a beautifully bound first edition of Homer’s “The Iliad”. It’s a moment that’s completely absurd but the film knows this too, and wisely plays it that way.
Ryan Guzman deserves special credit for this turn as the title character. He initially plays up the polite dream guy image, but when his character takes a turn for the crazy Guzman clearly relishes getting to ham it up in grand fashion. He displays great comic timing as his character grows increasingly unhinged, and the film is a lot of fun whenever he’s around. Lopez is also in good form, convincingly playing a wounded woman who starts gaining strength as events spiral downward.
Unfortunately a film this paint by the numbers has to take a break from the fun, and return repeatedly to the rather boring subplot of Lopez trying to reconcile with her husband (John Corbett). There’s nothing wrong with the acting in these scenes, but they’re just too familiar and trite to engage you. And with a plot this well travelled, you’ll be able to accurately predict every major story beat well ahead of time.
Yet the film’s main issue is that it doesn’t push the craziness enough. It flirts with the trashiness, but when it tries to pass as a credible drama or thriller, the results aren’t convincing. The third act in particular sees it morph into full on Fatal Attraction (1987) mode, with murder and kidnapping thrown in. And again, it’s only in the sillier moments that it comes to life. If the film had tried to subvert genre expectations a little more, it might have been something more than just an enjoyable bit of fluff.
The Boy Next Door can’t in good conscience be classed as a good movie, but approached with the right mindset it’s a pleasant enough waste of 90 minutes. The acting is good and there are enough (hopefully) intentional laughs to keep you entertained throughout.
The Boy Next Door is released in UK cinemas on February 27th