‘The Boy Next Door’
Director: Rob Cohen
Stars: Jennifer Lopez, Ryan Guzman
1 Globe (out of 5)
In 1998, after her turn in “Out of Sight,” it seemed perfectly sane to wish that up-and-coming actress Jennifer Lopez would become a big star. That good will quickly curdled over a series of wan movies and calculated career moves. But believe it or not, there are a instances in the trash-o-rama that is “The Boy Next Door” where one can see…well, not a great Lopez performance but a pretty good one — the deeply sensitive kind that, for instance, briefly made Francis Ford Coppola’s “Jack” not the worst movie ever made.
Playing a teacher who accidentally sleeps with a beefcake 19-year-old (Ryan Guzman, 27) only to learn he’s a psycho, she occasionally gives her film more care than it required or deserved. There are garbage movies where once-serious actresses overact, trying to pretend they’re in something classier and only coming across as pathetic. Lopez doesn’t do that. She gives her character a subtle depth of real feeling — sometimes.
Other times she can’t do anything to salvage the crap around her, and doesn’t try — sad, since she’s one of the film’s producers. (“She produced this??” an audience member at my screening shouted then laughed hysterically.) She can’t leer convincingly, as she’s called on to do at Guzman’s Noah, all while “The Fast and the Furious” director Rob Cohen’s cameras lingers over his sun-kissed bod. (It’s the refreshingly rare Hollywood product where the men are objectified more than the women.) But she’s good at portraying nervous fear as her situation escalates — except for the times she isn’t.
Of course, this is one of those casually misogynist scare fests, where a woman is punished for her lust. It’s a gender-reversed “Fatal Attraction” meets the “Hot for Teacher” video, crossed with one of those “…from hell” movies that clogged mid-’90s cinema. Instead of “The Roommate from Hell” or “The Temp from Hell,” its baddie is “The Dude Across the Street Who You Banged Once From Hell.” Smarting from a separation, Lopez’s Claire takes a shine to mysterious 19-year-old high school student Noah, who’s introduced upper-arm-muscle first. He’s a rare bird: he knows how garage door openers work and loves Homer. (“Dude, you’ve gotta read ‘The Iliad!’”) One rainy night he coerces her into PG-13 horseplay. When she spurns him the morning after, he becomes, to put it lightly, a bit of a pill.
Most of Noah’s pranks are more giggle-inducing than menacing, as is his jones for bad double entendres. (“It got pretty wet here.” Hello, nurse!) He likes to prattle on self-righteously about “whores” and cheating men whose dalliances deserve death — this in a film just as reactionary and retrograde as he is, and with groaner dialogue to boot. (“Go f— yourself.” “I’d rather f— you.”) In fact there’s the faint trace that the filmmakers know they’re making camp, that their film is playing to the audience’s desire to snicker at it. The over-the-top climax would bear that out, but the shrug with which it ends confirms that it’s closer to simple, anonymous hackwork.