If anything, “Lakeview Terrace” reminds us yet again: Samuel L. Jackson is one scary motherfucker.
Neil LaBute, director of the abysmal “The Wicker Man” remake is back with a suburban tale of bad neighbors, racism and unnecessary brushfires. With the subtlety of a sledgehammer, “Terrace,” like its not-so-distant, Oscar-winning cousin “Crash,” takes on the complicated racial issues in Los Angeles using a sort of Jules Winnfield (Jackson’s iconic character from “Pulp Fiction”) meets “Rear Window” scenario.
The plot gets in gear when Chris and Lisa Mattson (played sufficiently by Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington), an interracial couple, move next door to Abel Turner (Jackson), a racist LAPD officer who absolutely cannot stand the sight of a black woman in a white man’s arms in addition to other behaviors Turner considers to be inappropriate and “liberal,” like dancing, white men listening to rap music and being environmentally conscious.
Unlike the absolution of white liberal guilt that “Crash” tried to achieve with considerable grace, “Lakeview Terrace” never aims higher than the genre conventions of the thriller, highlighting Jackson’s unrelenting creepiness. Seriously, the camera consistently lingers just a bit too long on his face in every scene.
While many of Jackson’s recent performances have the phoned-in feeling to them – “Jumper” comes to mind – in “Terrace,” even when his performance slips into the realm of self-parody, the delight and passion Jackson puts into his character makes him compelling. As Turner, Jackson is gripping, creepy and menacing, and, when it comes right down to it, it’s one of the best performances audiences have seen from him in awhile.
The film is most successful when it ignores any attempts at wise racial commentary (it does hit at least a few intriguing notes) and just does pure suspense. We get it – everyone’s racist – but it really never goes further than that and by the end the themes are pushed aside in favor of a more conventional, but solid, ending.
It feels a tad empty, but with a unique score and top-notch performances, it manages to distinguish itself from the B-movie pack to become a solid thriller worth experiencing on the big screen.