Rating: 4 out of 10
Jennifer Lopez as Claire Peterson
With a plot straight out of the trashy pleasure handbook – the dissolution of her marriage sends middle-aged teacher Claire (Lopez) temporarily into the arms of charming, handsome Noah (Guzman) – “The Boy Next Door” so thoroughly misses its mark that it lands in the realm of inadvertent parody instead. Intended to be a bit of harmless fun of the… let’s be generous and say ‘archetypal’… variety, the collision of inept writing, acting and directing has delivered something which is certainly amusing, but most likely not in the way the filmmakers intended. If no one was laughing in the editorial room they didn’t know what film they were actually making. If they were laughing, they should have done reshoots to make it funnier.
But they didn’t and this is what we’re left with. When it turns out the ‘solace’ was a lot more temporary for Claire than for Noah – who latches onto her and her son (Nelson) with a manic grip faster than you can say “Lifetime already did it” – Claire begins to desperately seek a way out of the situation before her comfortable life is pulled apart by the “Fatal Attraction” rip-off she has suddenly found herself in. It’s a situation which, cliché though it may be, should be ripe for tension… or would be if screenwriter Barbara Curry didn’t manage to continually defuse it through horrible double entendre (the height of the film’s intended wit) and terrible characterization.
Noah in particular is supposed to be a hypnotic, charismatic soul overflowing with poetry (he has a thing for the Iliad, though what with his obsession with mothers, maybe it should be for Oedipus instead) who gets what he wants through suggestion and will, but he switches gears and emotions so quickly he may as well have crazy tattooed on his forehead. Not that it would have mattered; “Boy” is the kind of movie where the plot revolves not so much around people not having peripheral vision as not having eyes.
As badly conceived as it may be, however, it must be said if there is Platonic ideal of the worst way to deliver any given line in the film, the actors always seem to find it. Much of it comes across as soap operaesque melodrama, suggesting the actors at least knew what kind of film they were making. And that’s the good delivery; the rest is flat and lifeless as “Boy” swoops between modes more frequently than bi-polar Noah. Lopez in particular comes across less like a final take and more like a filmed rehearsal – all emotion is over-emphasized as if no one was sure exactly what they were supposed to be feeling at any given time. Which they may well not have been.
And that’s due to the real culprit behind this mess: director Rob Cohen. While each of the pieces are terrible in their own right (from dull cinematography to shoddy editing to the worst eye gouge gag in history), Cohen has managed the Herculean feat of bringing it all together into something which is somehow worse than the sum of its parts.
Proving that the disaster that was “Alex Cross” was not a fluke, Cohen jams his thumb on the scales at every point – from repeated sharp jump scares (proving how little confidence there really is in the script) to nonsensical sequences which are supposed to enforce our understanding of the character and story but instead leave the audience wondering what was the point of what they just watched. While Noah has an upstairs bedroom conveniently located at spying height for Claire, he also has a secret bedroom in the basement where he keeps his Claire shrine, because, you know, it’s creepy.
It’s all made worse by the way Cohen just jams scenes together without connection or thought. “Boy” even ends abruptly, almost without warning (it begins much the same way). It seems as if he genuinely does not know how to put a film together, and is totally lost if he doesn’t have a $100 million budget that can hire someone to do it for him.
“The Boy Next Door” doesn’t exactly aspire to a ‘so bad it’s good’ level – there is not enough self-awareness for that – but it’s so ridiculous that if you insist on suffering through it, while you won’t get any of the promised thrills, you might get a good laugh out of it.