Universal’s “The Boy Next Door” is almost so bad it’s good. Well, at least they got the “bad” part of that equation right.
A risible stalker thriller predicated on the absurd notion that Jennifer Lopez is still a movie star, it’s “Fatal Attraction” without the rabbit. And mostly without the fear.
Ryan Guzman of the later “Step Up” movies is the man candy who moves in next door to an about-to-divorce suburban school teacher Claire (Lopez) and her shy, allergy-riddled teenage boy, Kevin (Ian Peterson).
Dad (John Corbett) is a midlife crisis cliche, driving the purple Dodge Challenger, promising to never sleep with his secretary again. So he’s not quite still-in-the-picture. Enter Noah, the kindly, helpful 19 year-old taking care of his aged uncle next door.
Noah helps fix a garage door, helps Kevin score points with the cute kid in high school and helps himself into Claire’s classics literature class. Noah is all about “The Iliad,” quoting it, strutting like Achilles through the high school halls.
And Noah is “hot for teacher,” or to go more modern, he’s all about Claire, so he’s “all about the bass.”
Barbara Curry’s clumsy script concocts a bad blind date to irk Claire, and a hysterically mature seduction when Noah gets Claire alone.
“No judgements, no rules,” he purrs. “Just us…You can TRUST me.”
Of course she can’t. But since she’s had a little wine, has peeked at him stripping at night and isn’t shy about her own assorted skimpy pieces of underwear or sleepwear, Claire is ripe for the plucking. Because, you know, that’s the way women were depicted in the 1950s — helpless in the face of assertive caressing, sweet-talking and such.
Her instant regret leads to a lame excuse. “I got caught up in the moment.” He’s not having it.
And since we’ve seen flashes of Noah’s temper, watched him take her son out for pistol target practice and seen Claire wonder if someone is sneaking into her house, we know what “The Boy Next Door” is capable of. We know his moves before he makes them. So we just sit and wait for the pot to boil and some poor bunny, or its equivalent, to get cooked. This isn’t natural material for director Rob Cohen, who peaked with “Dragon” back in the last millennium (“Stealth” is kind of where he’s been ever since). The seduction scene plays and is photographed like softcore porn, the jokes are clunky and every punch is telegraphed, given away long before the fist is balled up.
Lopez is a gorgeous woman with the same mousy voice she came into the movies with 20 years ago. She’s all about the makeup, the hair, the clothes. She plays the part like someone imitating a TV teacher, from her classroom posture to her delivery.
Guzman is an equally fine specimen, though he’s a bit light on the menace and over-the-top in his playing of anger mismanagement.
No, don’t start picking apart the logic here, the clues everybody misses, the reactions that fly in the face of reason when Noah starts showing his hand. It’ll give you a headache.
The basics might be tried and true — a creepy, young, obsessive hunk who has an insidious influence on her son, her body and her life. But they’d have to be perfectly executed to work. And they aren’t.
Thus, “The Boy Next Door” is condemned to the movie equivalent of a bad neighborhood — January — where flops like this and Universal’s equally disastrous “Blackhat” are not so much released as written off.
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman, Kristin Chenoweth, Ian Peterson, John Corbett
Credits: Directed by Rob Cohen, screenplay by Barbara Curry. A Universal release.
Running time: 1:31