Nineteen-year-old Noah (played by 27-year-old Ryan Guzman) has moved in next door to Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez), apparently to care for his shockingly decrepit looking uncle who’s in need of a bone marrow http://www.thehairtransplantlosangeles.com/transplant. After fixing Claire’s garage door, befriending her son and proclaiming his love for the “classics” (Claire teaches classic literature at the local high school), he eventually, and rather forcefully, woos Claire into having sex with him. You see, Claire is vulnerable, her husband cheated on her and now she can’t decide whether or not she’s going to go back to him or just screw all the local teenagers. After her first dip in the teenage pool it seems she’s decided that’s a bad idea, but Noah isn’t too keen on letting her go that easily. “Let the games begin,” he tells her before peeling off in his truck. Oh, let them begin indeed!
Directed by Rob Cohen, who went from making satisfying schlock such as The Fast and the Furious and xXx to the likes of Stealth, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Alex Cross, The Boy Next Door, is his latest misfire and a film that can be summed up by what may be one of the best (and worst) lines in cinema history.
After Noah hits it off with Claire and her son, realizing a shared love for the classics, particularly Homer’s “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” — made known during a cringe-worthy scene in the kitchen — Noah buys Claire a gift, a copy of “The Iliad”. Claire looks it over, flips through the pages and then looks up in shock, “A first edition!?!?” Now let that sink in and while you’re absorbing it, remember, Claire is a classic literature teacher. It is single-handedly one of the most jarringly stupid lines I’ve ever heard in a movie and everyone from screenwriter Barbara Curry, Rob Cohen, Jennifer Lopez and Ryan Guzman should be ashamed of themselves. Then again, if it weren’t for scenes like these, I wouldn’t have had anything to laugh at.
Another scene that stands out is when Claire goes on a double date with a friend (Kristin Chenoweth). The man Claire has been set up with, however, turns out to be a bit of an ass and may as well have called her an idiot and thrown his soup in her face, telling her classic lit isn’t going to make anyone any money. Claire, coming armed for battle delivers what she considers her “drop the mic” moment saying, “J.K. Rowling, she was a classic lit major.” Of course, she forgot to mention before hitting it big with Harry Potter, Rowling was essentially jobless with a child and as poor as she could be without being homeless. I’m not saying studying the classics is a bad thing, but if you’re trying to make an argument that being rich isn’t everything when it comes to an education, maybe don’t give up by offering up a rich person example, especially when it’s not a particularly good one.
Scenes like this speak to how dumb The Boy Next Door is and for those of you hoping for the hot and steamy sex scene promised in all the early interviews for the movie, don’t get too excited, though Noah does coerce one high school student into a bit of jealousy-inducing sex, all seen from Claire’s bedroom window of course. She is quite the little “Peeping Tom”.
However, the structure of the film isn’t all bad. In a lot of ways it’s quite comparable to Adam Wingard‘s tongue-in-cheek thriller The Guest. Only problem is, Wingard used cliche story conceits to the film’s benefit, had fun with the score and allowed the actors time to ham it up a it. Here those same cliche moments, not to mention moments where Cohen could have allowed his actors time to breathe, only seem like plot points to get us from A-to-B-to-C.
Hell, Cohen could have even left in the “A first edition!?!?” line and played it for a laugh. Same with the J.K. Rowling bit, only after Claire leaves the table have the three that are left comment on her rage. Have the asshole say something like, “Wasn’t the Potter woman damn near homeless before those books?” To which Chenowith’s date could laugh Chenowith could have said, “You’re both a couple of ass holes,” before laughing herself, or choking on a piece of lettuce. Anything to not take things so damned seriously. All the actors seemed up to the task (even though most would be better suited for a Lifetime movie), and given what they’re working with it’s hard to come down too hard on any of their performances, though kudos to Jack Wallace for owning the decrepit old man look as he scoots around in what looked like a motorized office chair.
By the film’s end we’re treated to a booby-trapped barn and a gory bit of eye-gouging, all of which could have been way more fun than it is. The audience could have laughed with the movie rather than at it. Or, cut the stupid stuff, including Hill Harper as a ridiculously serious principal. Or, maybe it’s me, maybe I wrongly assumed Cohen wanted me to take this movie seriously. Either way, it doesn’t work, even though it could have with a little bit better tonal control or a few simple rewrites.