Boy Next Door, The (United States, 2015)

January 23, 2015
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Boy Next Door, The Poster

Note: If anyone cares, there's a reference in the next-to-last paragraph that enters spoiler territory. As in end-of-the-movie spoiler territory.

For the laughably bad debacle that is The Boy Next Door, I won't necessarily blame credited writer Barbara Curry. After all, we know how Hollywood works. Maybe what was shot isn't reflective of what she wrote. Maybe her script was a serious erotic thriller with real characters, smart dialogue, and a surfeit of tension. If that was the case, she deserves better than having her name associated with this misfire. But even if The Boy Next Door is a faithful representation of what Curry penned, there are enough other problems for her to share only part of the blame. It's badly directed, poorly edited, and features some of the most unconvincing acting this side of a soup commercial.

Hollywood no longer understands how to make erotic thrillers and when they try, the result more often than not ends up like The Boy Next Door. Although the movie is rated R, it appears to have been afflicted with PG-13-itis. You want erotic? Look back at Body Heat, Basic Instinct, and Adrian Lyne's canon. (The film's premise isn't that far from a gender reversed Fatal Attraction, which Lyne directed.) In The Boy Next Door, the sex scene is shot in such a way as to minimize exposure. Hand-bras and quick cuts abound. It's not sexy. It feels like we're in editing 101 where we're being instructed how to piece together a sex scene when an actress has an iron-clad no-nudity contract. To make matters worse, although the absent nudity in this scene would be justified, the nakedness that occurs later in the film (in a scene not featuring Jennifer Lopez) is gratuitous.

The problems only begin with the botched sex scene. There's nothing resembling erotic tension between Lopez, who plays 40-something high school teacher Claire Peterson, and the "almost 20" student with whom she has a one-night stand, Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman). The filmmakers, perhaps worried about the age difference, selected Guzman, who was 27 at the time of filming, and do everything possible to make him appear older. This creates a major suspension of disbelief hurdle to vault over. It doesn't help that Guzman appears to have been chosen more for his studly appearance than his acting ability. His looks are model quality but his range is limited. In attempting to convey strong emotion, he does a lot of jaw clenching and line growling. Meanwhile, Lopez appears to have largely forgotten how to act. Like Guzman, she looks great but gone are even distant echoes of the fantastic performance she gave in Out of Sight.

The subject matter - about the consequences of sex between a teacher and student when he becomes obsessed with her - exists almost entirely in the realm of moral grays. That doesn't prevent director Rob Cohen (the same Rob Cohen who brought us the first The Fast and the Furious) from painting with blacks and whites. He does everything possible to make Claire sympathetic and likable - a generous woman who, in a moment of weakness, makes a mistake. On the other hand, Noah is the personification of evil - a psychopath who seduces his teacher (and friend's mom) and then uses every tool in the book, including blackmail and murder, to terrorize her into being with him.

Okay, so The Boy Next Door isn't interested in being a smart, serious look at sexual obsession. It just wants to be a popcorn thriller. Epic fail. The movie repeatedly insults its audience by treating viewers like ADD-afflicted kindergarten students. On one occasion, a character has a violent outburst in the halls of a high school that results in him striking a vice principal and beating another student so badly that his skull is fractured. Yet, even though the perpetrator is legally an adult, there is no police involvement. Later, someone believes that erasing a video file from a computer makes it go away. (Even if there isn’t a back-up, "deleted" files can be retrieved.) And, of course, murderers always keep records of their crimes in easily identifiable folders on a computer that isn't password-protected. Details like these, when taken in concert, make one wonder whether The Boy Next Door might be a sly, subversive parody of the genre. It can't be as dumb as it seems, right? Sadly, I'm afraid that would be giving it too much credit.

In the end, The Boy Next Door is simply frustrating. It's unfortunate to see a ripe premise rot on the vine. It's depressing to watch the antics of a supposedly savvy protagonist who engages in antics that would embarrass a 1980s scream queen. And it's ridiculous to observe a hunky villain who thinks he's in an action movie and needs to be killed several times in order to stay dead.

Ah, but it's January and The Boy Next Door is what we have come to expect from this month. The only thing missing from this excursion into wretchedness is Nic Cage, but there's really no role for him. Better productions than this are released direct-to-video every week but I guess someone thought Jennifer Lopez's name might retain a vestige of box office clout. Whether or not The Boy Next Door represents a referendum on her drawing power, it makes a statement about the kinds of roles available to her because no one with self-respect would appear in this movie if presented with another option.

Boy Next Door, The (United States, 2015)

Director: Rob Cohen
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, John Corbett, Kristin Chenoweth, Ryan Guzman, Ian Nelson
Home Release Date: 2015-04-28
Screenplay: Barbara Curry
Cinematography: Dave McFarland
Music: Randy Edelman, Nathan Barr
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:31
U.S. Release Date: 2015-01-23
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Sexual Content, Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1