THE BOY NEXT DOOR
Director: Rob Cohen
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Ian Nelson, John Corbett, Kristin Chenoweth, Lexi Atkins, Hill Harper
MPAA Rating: (for violence, sexual content/nudity and language)
Running Time: 1:31
Release Date: 1/23/15
Review by Mark Dujsik | January 22, 2015
The woman returns home from a disastrous blind date and decides to drink most of the contents of a bottle of wine. She gets a call from the man next door. He's having problems cooking dinner and asks if she would come over to help. They eat. She gets up to leave. The man stops her with the muscular biceps and formidable forearms that the movie has spent a considerable amount of time establishing. He says he wants to take their relationship to the next step. She says, "No." She tells him to stop. She says that it's wrong and that she doesn't want to. Still, he keeps his arm in her path and forces his face to hers. He kisses her repeatedly, but she doesn't reciprocate, because she's still telling him to stop.
That's the inciting incident of The Boy Next Door. The movie refuses to call the scene what it is, but we know better. The movie pretends that it's just an innocent mistake on the part of the female protagonist. We know better. She even tells the man that it's her fault and that he did nothing wrong. This is a movie that misleads with its title, suggesting that the man is just a "boy" who isn't responsible for his actions, even though he's almost 20 years old. This is a movie that won't call a rape what it is.
Of course, all of this presumes—and perhaps unfairly—that director Rob Cohen and screenwriter Barbara Curry know that the scene is rape and are simply, irresponsibly ignoring that fact. An even scarier possibility is that neither realizes it is rape. The first act of the movie spends a lot of time establishing the mutual attraction between Claire (Jennifer Lopez) and Noah (Ryan Guzman). They leer at each other. She stares into his bedroom, watching him undress, and when he notices, he lets her know that he has noticed. She dresses up in high heels and lingerie to watch him.
Here's the thing: Attraction and even desire in one moment or in multiple moments do not equate consent in another moment. The movie suggests that, even though Claire vocally and physically rejects Noah's aggressive advances, somewhere deep down she really wants to have sex with him. Everything about the scene, though, tells a completely different story. That the movie jumps into "innocent mistake" mode, forcing the woman to take all the blame for what happens, is telling. Maybe, though, it's just an "innocent mistake" on the part of Cohen, Curry, or both—a case of poor blocking, incomplete character development, or some horrible combination of these and other elements.
Whatever led to the scene is irrelevant. Ultimately, it's one that puts a major stain on this otherwise embarrassing thriller about an obsessive man stalking and terrorizing a woman (It's odd how the movie has no problem making the "boy" a broad, violent villain but won't acknowledge his first act of violence). We have seen it before and know all of its beats before they happen.
It plays out like a checklist of what needs to happen in a cheap thriller. There are a lot of tense standoffs between Claire and Noah. Noah manipulates Claire's son (Ian Nelson) to turn on his mother. He fractures a teenager's skull and turns it into an opportunity to threaten Claire's best friend and the school's vice principal (Kristin Chenoweth), who doesn't expel him for assaulting a student but does for saying nasty things about her. Someone is killed just so we know the villain means business.
There isn't just one scene but two in which he tampers with the brakes on a car. His computer is filled with telltale, hilariously unhidden evidence of his criminal activity (It's so obvious that we half expect Claire to discover a text file named "My Evil Master Plan"). There's even the moment when a cat pops out to provide a false startle before a big reveal, but at least Cohen sets up that the cat exists during a lengthy monologue that will likely appear in a book of monologues that no young actor should use for an audition. The climax is a showdown during which everyone takes their sweet time deciding what to do, even as a barn burns down around them.
It's a testament to how incompetent The Boy Next Door is that it becomes laughable after the rape scene that nobody acknowledges is one. That scene is so blatantly or accidentally careless that we can't imagine how the movie could possibly redeem itself. It never does, but at least the movie becomes more deserving of derision than of scorn.
Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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