The Boy Next Door (2015) / Thriller-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for violence, sexual content/nudity and language
Running Time: 91 min.
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, John Corbett, Ian Nelson, Kristin Chenoweth, Lexi Atkins, Hill Harper
Director: Rob Cohen
Screenplay: Barbara Curry
Review published January 25, 2015
January is a strange month -- a dumping ground for studio releases that they just don't know what else to do with. In the same week as we have a very unfunny comedy in Mortdecai, we have a movie with ten times the laughs in The Boy Next Door. The problem is, the latter isn't a comedy.
As I watched The Boy Next Door, I couldn't help but feel that the entire story feels like some middle-aged woman's fantasy, where a studly young man (Guzman, Step Up Revolution) can't help but pursue a 40-something mom and teacher (Lopez, Parker) because she's the most beautiful thing in the universe, and he must have her, and only her, at any cost.
Sure enough, when the end credits appeared. I saw the the name of Barbara Curry, and after a quick internet search, I discovered that, indeed, she is a middle-aged former United States prosecutor who left the courtroom after 10 years to pursue her passion of screenwriting. You would think that a woman this well versed in actual criminal prosecutions could do a whole lot better than to concoct this wildly unbelievable fantasy that could have been written by just about anybody with a vivid imagination, and a complete disregard for logic, plausibility, and basic understanding of human nature.
Of course, that young man's obsession is at least somewhat plausible when that middle-aged woman looks like Jennifer Lopez, who plays high school English teacher Claire Peterson, recently separated from her philandering hubby Garrett (Corbett, Street Kings), who has been hovering around looking to reconcile, and single mother to awkward high school senior Kevin (Nelson, The Best of Me), who just hopes his parents can sort out their problems so that they can be a family again. A wrench gets thrown in the works when her ailing elderly neighbor finds a caretaker in his recently relocated and orphaned great nephew Noah, a hunky near-20 year old (who is aiming to finish the grade-school education he had delayed) who immediately befriends and mentors Kevin on how to be a man, then takes a shine to Claire, eventually wearing down her initial defenses for some intimacy.
It's an R-rated film with one racy sex scene between J.Lo and Ryan Guzman, but you've probably seen more skin from the actress on the red carpet at awards shows than she displays here in this film -- she has a no-nudity clause in her contract. Directed without any sense of subtlety from overblown action director Rob Cohen (The Mummy 3, Stealth), the entire thing feels like a soap-opera version of Fatal Attraction, with even more campy moments (mostly unintentional), but without thespians with the kind of gravitas to pull it off. Some of these moments as so-bad-they're-good to the point where you wonder if they can be believed.
Take for instance a scene in which Noah immediately bonds with Claire when he finds out she is about to teach Classics, comparing Homer to Shakespeare (which is interesting, given that Homer was merely writing down tales from the oral tradition, not his own). How can you not laugh when Noah surprises Claire with a book of the Iliad, and she immediately opens it and says, with a straight face, "It's a first edition!"? I suppose it could be one of the rare first-edition translations by Alexander Pope, though that's a multi-volume set, not just one tome; Hit's certainly not a real first edition, as Homer wrote the epic poem around the 8th Century BC, long before the printing and binding of books.
And that's not all about Noah that's too good to be true. In addition to being one of the world's only teenage experts in "The Iliad", he also knows how to fix cars (though, oddly, he has to read a manual to break one), shoot guns at marksman-like levels, kickbox, perform extensive home repairs, build a home network of computers, and, of course, do the nasty as if he's had all the experience in the world. The only thing the lad can't do is take "no" for an answer, or give a woman some space.
As Noah gets more threatening, to the point of obvious murder that would have easily just taken a phone call to the police to put an end to, the sheep's clothing comes off and just about everyone is in mortal peril. Noah may be off his rocker, but how he can think that Claire would willingly accept him if he can get the pesky kid and would-be ex-hubby out of the way is but one of the film's many egregious flaws in logic. Claire, for her part, seems pretty much hell bent on putting her family, friends, and career in harm's way at just about every turn, further fanning the flames of Noah's boundless discontent. As Noah goes from clingy teen to the devil incarnate, the film loses even its grip as a likeably bad lark, and its supposedly exciting climax is far from a 'barn burner' in excitement, despite the literal burning of barn.
Unless you're in to just laugh at how ludicrously trashy it all is, there's really no reason to watch The Boy Next Door otherwise, as there's nothing very sexy, thrilling, or very unnerving about this heavily manufactured Lifetime-movie fantasy-drama to engage. Audiences will likely start their laughter with such lines as Noah stating to Kevin how much he enjoys his mother's "cookies", and you'll giggle-snort at its expense at least a dozen times after that. Unfortunately, it's still not quite enough to get into the realm of a real howler like The Identical, which is, pound for pound, the funniest non-comedy the silver screen has seen in years. The Boy Next Door sure give it a run for its money for a while, though.
©2015 Vince Leo