This new drama from Neil LaBute (once a playwright) seems like a variation on "neighbor from hell" like Pacific Heights which starred Michael Keaton, Matthew Modine and Melanie Griffith. But, one that's hardly as entertaining as it purports to be working from suburban Southern California.
There's an intolerable cruelty of a good cop/bad neighbor, Abel Turner, as played by Samuel L. Jackson, using some of his Shaft swagger. The premise is something that has
potential, but the script seems to unravel, perhaps due to the war of attrition by the self-aggrandizing Turner.
The widowed Turner has the color blue on his side against new young inter-racial couple Chris (Patrick Wilson of Little Children) and Lisa, acted by Kerry Washington (Mr. & Mrs. Smith). The virulent man conducts his own neighborhood watch to make it all respectable in his eyes for his impressionable kids.
Their beautiful abode on a cul de sac becomes unpeaceful as bad things begin to happen to Lisa and Chris when it comes to an air conditioner and their hybrid vehicle in their garage. Not to mention Abel's sky/security lights shining right into their bedroom.
Jackson does the irrepressible bigot to a tee as raging wildfires put the community on high alert. Turner's attention to the criminals in South Central L.A. are more impressive than his kind of harassment toward his new neighbors. He doesn't like the attention given to his daughter by the friendly Lisa.
When Abel first introduces himself to Chris, the latter is startled almost thinking he's been carjacked, so as the film progresses one might think that there's some psychological explanation for his obstinate ways. The increasing coerciveness is highlighted by Jackson's malevolent leering, but Lakeview Terrace doesn't offer much emotional picaresqueness. It doesn't help that the character appears one way early on then takes Chris to an overnight bash.
Obviously, what LaBute is known for when it comes to male authority is evident in a simmering LAPD cop. But, if the director was hands on more with the plotting he may have diluted some of the characteristic venom, which might have made the result glimmer from its modern outlook. Thus, Wilson and Washington are left at a character disadvantage even as Chris and Lisa are on the threshold of giving in to their remorseful neighbor.
Lakeview Terrace can be seen as a cautionary tale, perhaps on couples taking on the tough housing market, yet it's a bender in the bad sense of the word. In the company of Abel Turner, the final escalation of events has its unrepenting chops, even if the law is taken down with it.