Written by: Barbara Curry
Directed by: Rob Cohen
Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, and Kristin Chenoweth
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"I love your mother's cookies."
The magical thing about movies is that they can transport you to another time and place. For example, The Boy Next Door takes you back to a late-night cable channel-surfing spree on any given night in 1995. The place: the edge of your couch as you stumbled upon the latest erotic thriller, one eye looking carefully over your shoulder in case one of your parents woke up to interrupt your boobs-and-blood binge. We’ve all been there, and anyone who claims otherwise is just upset they got stuck with Poison Ivy III instead of the original. I’m not saying The Boy Next Door is a nostalgia trip, but I am saying could serve a similar purpose in the future, only it’ll probably involve an iPhone and torrents. Goddamn kids, get off of my premium cable lawn.
Rob Cohen’s latest entry in this sleaze-and-slash canon aims to scandalize with an especially sordid tale of forbidden lust. Still reeling from her husband’s infidelity, English teacher Claire Peterson (Jennifer Lopez) is trying her best to enjoy summer vacation with her son Kevin (Ian Nelson). When smoldering hunk Noah (Ryan Guzman) moves in next door (he is The Boy, you see), it’s innocuous enough: Kevin gets a new friend to help him hit on the popular girl in school, while Claire has a new flatterer that seems innocent enough in a sort of Eddie Haskell-meets-The Fonz sort of way. Flattery gets him very far: too far, by both the letter of the law and by any sensible moral compass (Noah is still a student, albeit one bordering on 20 years old), as the two get tired of just exchanging furtive glances into each other’s windows and bone in his living room. She immediately regrets it. He only regrets that he now has to terrorize her into actually loving her, even if it includes cutting the brakes to her husband’s car.
The Boy Next Door is glorious crap, which makes it my kind of crap, at least for the most part. Keeping in mind it’s been calibrated for multiplex consumption, it’s relatively unhinged—not so much because of its steamy sex or its violent outbursts but because it takes the stuff of trashy headlines and twists it into a ludicrous thriller. Inappropriate relationships between students and teachers are no laughing matter, but Cohen and company apparently didn’t get the memo. Or maybe they did, and they just ignored that shit. I’m hesitant to laugh at its expense, given that the sex between Noah and Claire plays out like a rape scene: she clearly says “no” before relenting, yet the film never really bothers to acknowledge this and just charges right into Noah’s nutso reaction to being rejected.
The kid goes zero-to-psycho in record time, and that is a hoot. One minute, he’s caressing Claire with dialogue straight from the stalker manual (“you deserve to be cherished,” he insists to the total embarrassment of anyone with hearing), the next he’s punching the wall like a lunatic. She sticks around to mend him, something that only further convinces him that they’re meant to be together. Jesus, this kid doesn’t realize the only thing in their shared future would involve scandalous headlines and a bunch of mouth-breathers making jokes about how they wish their teachers had looked like J’Lo and tried to seduce them. While The Boy Next Door is ostensibly a vehicle for Lopez (who also produced) to regain some of that Enough magic, Guzman hijacks it with a performance that leaves you wondering if he attempted to steal James Franco’s soul before settling on aping his mannerisms.
That distracting resemblance aside, Cruz admirably inhabits some creepy skin without losing the inherent campiness of the material written for him. Noah is a conniving, preposterous little shit from the moment he appears enthusiastically spouting quotes from The Iliad (of all the unbelievable stuff in the movie, this is the most unbelievable—find a high school bro who can quote Homer, and chances are it’s going to be from The Simpsons if you’re that lucky). His post-cloital interactions graduate from winking innuendo (“I love your mother’s cookies” is destined to be a cult-movie touchstone) all the way to aggravated stalking and homicide. Cruz carries himself with the swagger of the type of insecure dopes who refer to themselves as “alpha males,” but, deep down, you sense that Noah is a pathetic goon who believes women owe him affection. I bet he owns at least two of those stupid “meninist” shirts.
Since Cohen directs The Boy Next Door with the anonymity of a Lifetime Original auteur, it thrives on the camp of its script and Cruz’s ability to keep his face eminently punchable. If Cohen deserves any credit, he at least assists with the latter: his camera is there to capture every smirk and smug side-eye from Cruz. In one of the few inspired moments, he swoops in on Noah’s face as he declares “game on” after Claire’s latest rebuttal. It took all I could not to howl right there in the theater. Credit is due to Lopez, too, for not batting a single eye the entire way: she’s a game foil, and her character is just sympathetic enough that you really want to see her wreck Noah’s stupid face. A note of interest: pay attention to Claire’s nickname. I’m sure she would appreciate the foreshadowing as an English teacher. Once it hit me, I was compelled to howl again. The Boy Next Door is not a smart movie, but you can’t take this away from it.
I only wish it went a little further. Somehow, there’s another greasy subplot involving Noah and the girl Kevin pines for that goes nowhere, and the terse ending is deflating. In 90 breathless minutes, it piles up nearly every cliché imaginable, save for that one: a movie committed to being so dumb shouldn’t end so abruptly. The Boy Next Door is so gleefully crummy that you want it to linger with one of those outrageous, implausible stingers that finds Noah moving into a new neighborhood to tease The Next Boy Next Door. Maybe the future still holds that; for now, I’ll settle for this one eventually finding its natural habitat on cable, where it’ll become that other “J’Lo doesn’t have time for your abusive bullshit” joint you can’t help but consuming. I don’t know if it’ll become the millennial equivalent to Poison Ivy and its ilk, though—it coaxes too many laughs, which is a good way to get busted by your parents when you’re watching something you’re not supposed to. Rent it!
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