WALKING A THIN BLUE LINE
Lakeview Terrace is tiresome largely because Samuel L. Jackson's Belligerent Black Man antics are so predictable. He's dug a lowdown niche; and movie after movie he keeps shoveling crap over himself. This time Jackson plays Abel Turner, a prejudiced Los Angeles cop who goes apeshit when he discovers his new neighbors are a young interracial couple, white supermarket exec Chris Mattson (Patrick Wilson) and black Berkeley grad Lisa (Kerry Washington). That the neighborhood is solidly middle class and ethnically diverse makes no difference to Turner. Chris and Lisa offend him personally, triggering his hostile sense of social propriety. It also raises the leprous itch of director Neil LaBute, whose own predictable shtick is to scratch at society's sore spots. LaBute, like Jackson, isn't interested in brotherhood or understanding; he likes to irritate. This is LaBute's first time assaying black racism-a twist on his usual tweaking of misogyny, homophobia and generalized cruelty. That LaBute has nothing genuine to say about these social ills is what has won his acclaim; critics see their own fears and biases in LaBute's contrived theatrics. Here, LaBute shrewdly evades mainstream white guilt and social responsibility by demonizing black prejudice. LaBute is not the credited screenwriter of Lakeview Terrace; yet it carries his stench. The film was actually written by David Loughery and Howard Korder and produced by Will Smith, exercising his Mr. Hyde side. That means Smith is responsible for perpetrating the outlandish pairing of Jackson and LaBute, two of the most scandalous scoundrels in film history. This tripartite conspiracy to make a racist thriller lets Jackson be the bad guy, adding to his resume of black male stereotypes; and allows LaBute to continue his crimes against art. Jackson and LaBute are a perfect idiotic fit to distort the race and class issues in Lakeview Terrace. Jackson represents recalcitrant notions of black unreasonableness-as if the already miscegenated African-American social strata cannot make peace with interracial coupling. LaBute's typical perversity represents the reactionary notion that black authority figures are untrustworthy and abuse their power. As rogue cop Turner systematically harasses Chris and Lisa (they're told "He has the color issue on his side; the color is blue"), the newlywed couple's marriage gradually weakens because of their private doubts and insecurities. If they don't really love each other, then this relationship-like the specious controversial one in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever-was doomed from its green-lit conception. Lakeview Terrace's cynicism is pure LaBute. Even the dialogue has his sour, out-of-tune ring: Turner taunts his fellow officers "What? I heard nigger jokes before." Chris' best friend sneers, "I always wanted to date a black girl. Right now I'm doing the Pacific Rim thing." It's all part of LaBute's anti-social pandering. His ugly insensitivity pushes Turner-a bitter widower, mean to his kids-into more hysterical remonstrations and monstrous postures. "God ain't here! You swear to me!" he bullies a perp (imitating Training Day). It's not a believable characterization; hellhound Turner gets posed against symbolic California wildfires. Foul-mouthed Jackson merely literalizes Eddie Murphy's 48 Hrs. joke: "I'm your worst nightmare-a nigga with a badge." LaBute's oddest cultural reference is the Watermelon Man poster that decorates Chris and Lisa's home. That 1970 Melvin Van Peebles racial role-reversal comedy has no fathomable bearing on this film's weak social allegory. A poster for Joe Dante's The 'Burbs might have been more fitting. LaBute isn't skilled enough to direct an action-thriller that evokes real-world politics. Unable to create tension, he just exacerbates our uneasy social pacts-a stunt that could only be tolerated in a nihilistic age. It's important to clearly state that Jackson and LaBute's cynical routines in Lakeview Terrace offend human decency, but I'm brushing their dirt off my shoulder. -- Lakeview Terrace Directed by Neil LaBute, Running Time: 106 min. --
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