Neil LaBute's first film after his disastrous 2006 WICKER MAN remake is equally generic and marginally more watchable. But this tediously predictable thriller about Los Angeles yuppies terrorized by their blue-collar neighbor is undone by its pretensions to seriousness: Spike Lee notwithstanding, suggesting that a black man can be a bigot isn't exactly subversive.
Graphic designer Lisa Mattson (Kerry Washington) and her husband, Chris (Patrick Wilson), who works for an upscale supermarket chain, have just bought their first home in a racially mixed neighborhood the San Fernando Valley. Unfortunately, their next-door neighbor is widowed LAPD officer Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson), a seething mass of resentment and hostility who grew up in South Central and hates the ghetto mentality he rose above almost as much as the privileged rich folks he sees embodied in the blandly liberal Chris. And he hates interracial couples most of all -- it's fine for folks to mix at work, but home is another matter. Chris and Lisa unwittingly fan the flames of his fury by "christening" their new pool without checking the sightlines: Abel's rebellious teen daughter and pre-pubescent son (Regine Nehy, Jaishon Fisher) get an eyeful before dad pulls the shades. As wildfires rage outside, smoldering, sparking and spreading despite official assurances, Abel declares war: He promises to dim the security lights that scorch the Mattsons' bedroom at night but doesn't, sniggers about Chris' little "chocolate drop" and makes it clear that there's only room for one alpha male in this particular corner of American Dreamland. His insinuations strike a raw nerve chez Mattson: Chris knows Lisa's father, a successful Chicago lawyer (Ron Glass, of TV's Barney Miller), wishes his baby hadn't married a white boy, and Lisa suspects that Chris' family is just being PC when they shower her with extravagant declarations of love. To top it all off, Lisa wants to start a family and Chris is dragging his feet: Is it because he's a typical guy, reluctant to leave his footloose-and-fancy free youth behind, or is he ambivalent about raising a mixed-race child? Once Abel's kids leave for their annual two-week visit with Aunt Dorrie (Vanessa Bell Calloway), there's nothing to keep this human time bomb with a gun and a badge in check.
LAKEVIEW TERRACE is a mean little B-movie grown too big for its britches. Like UNLAWFUL ENTRY (1992), PACIFIC HEIGHTS (1990), THE TEMP and THE CRUSH (both 1993), it's rooted in top dog/underdog dynamics and panders to the upwardly mobile, middle-class nightmare of losing everything to some lowlife who knows how to game the system. All of which would e fine if it weren't so dull: From the first time Abel messes with Chris' head it's clear there's a mano a mano in the offing, but getting there shouldn't be such a slog.